October 21, 2003

Distortion ...

There's been a lot of talk about the made-for-TV Reagan movie. I won't pile on. but....

There's one thing that people always seem to be unaware of, when discussing Reagan's reaction to the AIDS crisis. We have a large Federal agency whose job is to deal with outbreaks of disease. That's the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), part of the NIH. At the time AIDS appeared, the CDC had a budget of about $300 Million. That's probably close to a Billion dollars in current money.

It is characteristic of bureaucracies that they think of their budgets not as money they have to earn, but as money they own. And whenever a President asks them to do something additional, the response is, to put it crudely, "Only if you pay me!" And every agency keeps up a drumbeat of requests for more money, which is always for important tasks. You can't trust what they say. That's the context of Reagan's reluctance to provide more money for AIDS. We were already providing a lot of money for the CDC to jump on disease outbreaks. And then a new disease came along and they immediately said, "We can't do anything, we don't have any money."

Now in hindsight we know that AIDS was a much bigger problem than say, SARS, and merited additional funding. But that fact was only beginning to emerge in Reagan's time.

So when people tell you that "Reagan refused to provide money to fight AIDS," implying that the US was heartlessly spending nothing, that's a distortion of the truth.

Posted by John Weidner at October 21, 2003 6:47 PM
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