Monday, March 5, 2007

The Little Train That (thank God) Couldn't

Robert Novak has a column today discussing the victory of two Senators, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, in their ongoing battle against pork. This particular battle set them against another Republican Senator, John Thune, whose taste for pork was expansive and, unfortunately, emblamatic of an all too common problem in the Republican Congress over the past six years.

The Federal Railroad Administration handed a rare victory to the American taxpayer last week by denying a questionable $2.3 billion loan application by the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern (DM&E) Railroad. What makes this news of special interest is the paramount role Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) played in boosting the loan. Here is a cautionary tale of political life in Washington and how it corrupts.
Read the whole article here. Senator Coburn, in particular, deserves great praise for his principled and unswerving stand against pork. And he has paid a political price for it, most recently compliments of Harry Reid. Porkbusters has the whole story:

The Democratic Congressional leadership didn't get nearly the kicking around it deserved for one particularly despicable provision in the fiscal 2007 spending bill: a clause which canceled funding for a program to prevent unborn babies from contracting HIV from infected mothers.

The program was sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn, who is as everyone knows a friend of the Porkbusting cause. In this case, however, the notoriously frugal Senator (who is also a M.D. ) was urging that the government spend money --- but spend it in a way that would achieve demonstrable results for the well being of children at risk of contracting HIV.

Coburn's office provides the following background:

Since 1994, medical experts have known how to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child. “Baby AIDS” can be virtually eliminated if expectant mothers with HIV are identified and treated with AIDS drugs. Infants whose mothers’ HIV status is unknown may also be protected if HIV antibodies are detected soon after birth and treatment is promptly administered. With treatment, the risk of transmission from mother to child can be reduced to less than one percent. Without treatment, 25 percent of children born to mothers with HIV will become infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This may be perhaps the single most significant achievement in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

States such as Connecticut and New York have enacted laws that prioritize diagnosis, treatment and prevention and have, as a result, virtually eliminated baby AIDS. The New York Post has referred to the law as “New York’s Infant AIDS Miracle.”

In 2006, Congress established a $30 million HIV early intervention grant program—funded out of CDC’s HIV prevention budget—to provide financial incentives to assist other states eliminate baby AIDS.

So how far would that $30M go? I'm told that the treatment to prevent HIV transmission from mother to child costs a whopping $100. So let's assume that half the $15M goes to overhead and detection, and we've got $15M left for actual treatment. So that would mean 150,000 babies might be treated with the funding allocated.

By comparison, what if a child is born with HIV? Leaving aside the horrific indifference required to condemn a child to such a fate when it is so easily preventable, the financial cost of treatment during the child's lifetime is also staggering. A 2006 study stated "the monthly medical cost for people with HIV, from the time of beginning appropriate care until death, to be $2,100 on average. The projected life expectancy for these individuals, if they remain in optimal HIV care, has now increased to 24.2 years, and the lifetime per person HIV care cost is now $618,900 per person."

So: with your $30M, you can prevent 150,000 children from becoming infected at all --- or you can pay for a tragically shortened lifetime of treatment for fewer than 50 children.

But the funding bill is now law, which means that no funding can be used to implement the program, and the $30M will revert back to other CDC HIV/AIDS prevention activities.

So where will that money be going? Almost certainly to more than a few programs with a significantly more dubious return-on-investment than Senator Coburn's --- at least if the return you are looking for in your HIV/AIDS prevention program is, you know, preventing HIV/AIDS.
Read the entire post here. While it is easy to become cynical about our government, the few principled men like Senator Coburn do help to keep the faith. Let's hope we hear much more from him in the future.

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