Ebola Outbreak: Congressional Update

Although Congress is in recess until after the mid-term elections, two hearings were held on the Ebola outbreak with a focus primarily on recent diagnosis of the first Ebola cases in the U.S. The House Committee on Homeland Security held a field hearing in Dallas on the importance of coordinating the response both domestically and internationally. A week later, the House Energy and Commerce Committee convened a hearing on the U.S. response to the Ebola outbreak. At both hearings the focus was primarily on the response to the recent diagnosis of the first Ebola cases in the U.S. and what measures are in place to prevent infected travelers from arriving in the U.S. Representatives were interested in a travel ban for the affected countries in West Africa. At the Energy and Commerce hearing, Dr. Thomas Frieden stated firmly that a travel ban would be ineffective and would actually slow down the international response. To date, the Obama Administration remains opposed to a travel ban, and it is unclear if Congress will act on its own.

The House Oversight Committee will convene a hearing on the coordination of a multi-agency response to Ebola on Friday, October 24.

Before heading into recess in September, Congress approved a Continuing Resolution (CR) that funds the government until mid-December and which contained $88 million to fight Ebola in West Africa. Other U.S. agencies, including the Department of Defense, are using unused funds to contribute to the U.S. response. Congress will reconvene for a lame duck session to finish up the Fiscal Year 2015 appropriations process and it is unclear if additional funding for the Ebola response will be included in the final bill.