Obama Seeks to Woo War Votes with Flu Funds
By Shailagh Murray
To relieve pressure on antiwar Democrats, the Obama administration hopes to win at least a few House Republican converts on an emergency war spending bill this week, by emphasizing the flu prevention funds that the package includes.
As a final vote looms this week in the House and Senate, the White House today circulated a letter addressed to every public school superintendent in the country that outlines ways to cope with the stronger strain of the H1N1 virus that many public health experts predict will hit the U.S. this fall. The letter, co-authored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, urges local officials to use the summer break to develop effective policies for hand washing, food service, sending kids home, and other steps, should they become necessary.
The message to educators is clear: "Our hope is that the summer months can be used to develop and share a coordinated public health strategy that aims to protect our children and families and minimize disruptions," the letter reads.
The message to GOP lawmakers is less overt, but no less emphatic. Obama asked Congress to include $3.5 billion for flu prevention in the war funding bill, and Democrats responded with $7.7 billion, a bonanza for the public health community. The expanded sum includes $350 million to help state and local governments, including school districts.
House Republicans are threatening to vote en masse against the bill -- an outcome that the White House hopes to discourage, because it increases pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to convert some of the 51 liberal Democrats who voted against an earlier version of the legislation, because they oppose the Iraq war. The $105.9 billion war supplemental includes funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, along with new money for the International Monetary Fund that Obama had pledged to world leaders. Republicans strongly oppose the IMF language, but the White House hopes the lure of flu money will relax at least some doubts.
Posted at 4:43 PM ET on Jun 15, 2009
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