War Bill's Flu Provision Could Trip Up GOP
By Shailagh Murray
The H1N1 flu outbreak represents a serious public health threat, to be sure. But it also may offer Democrats a political opportunity.
As Congress struggled this week to pass a $106 billion emergency war funding bill, Democrats added $7.65 billion for flu prevention to prepare for a potential second wave of H1N1 in the fall. House Republicans have pledged to oppose the war-funding bill because of an unrelated provision related to the International Monetary Fund. But if GOP lawmakers follow through with their opposition by voting against the final bill next week, a "no" vote on flu prevention will appear on the books.
"If I were a Republican from a marginal district, I would not feel comfortable with that vote," said one senior Democratic aide who helped to add the funding in the final bill, approved tonight by House and Senate negotiators.
For the discomfort that could cause, Republicans need only turn to Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), the top Republican on the Senate homeland security committee, who helped to strip out nearly $900 million in pandemic flu funding from the economic stimulus bill in February. "Everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu," Collins said at the time. "But does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No, we should not."
Two months later, H1N1 arrived on the scene and Collins was pummeled by liberal blogs. "Claims that she is opposed to increased funding for pandemic flu research are blatantly false and politically motivated," her spokesman retorted in a statement.
Earlier today, the World Health Organization declared the seven-week-old outbreak a pandemic, a warning to nations to prepare for a new flu strain that could prove more severe. In a letter to congressional leaders that Democrats circulated this afternoon, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius lavished thanks on lawmakers for the additional funding, which she called "absolutely essential to U.S. public health preparedness."
Sebelius wrote, "While we can't know for sure what will happen this fall, public health experts suggest that the likelihood of a more severe outbreak in the fall is significant -- a scenario that could place unprecedented demands on our public health system."
Posted at 8:35 PM ET on Jun 11, 2009
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