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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."

By Web Politics Editor  |  June 11, 2009; 8:35 PM ET
Categories:  Health Care  
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Three cheers for the Republicans in congress. What does a war funding bill have to do with the flu? The democrats attach this to an important piece of legislation and then try to use political blackmail to get them to pass it (or they will look like they don't care about the health of the American people). What a lot of baloney. I think congress should seriously check into this swine flu/bird flu/H1N1 or whatever it is being called this week. The WHO declared it a pandemic. The WHO is also "in close consultation" with the big drug companies that want to manufacture the new vaccines they want to sell to the public. I am glad the Republicans shot it down. That is why the two party system is good for America. Someone has to watcdh the foxes in the henhouse.

Posted by: texaspaladin | June 13, 2009 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Ha, ha! The repugs stripped this from the original bill, so now they are having to pass something they really don't want or look bad - don't they know they already look bad (stupid too).

Posted by: skimom27 | June 12, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

I think the Republicans will pay any price to get back in power, but all they are doing is getting themselves more distant from what America is really about and really needs. RE: war-funding bill. Just get the money back from the Cheney Croney Contractors who stole it in the first place.

Posted by: c1945h | June 12, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Flu money in a war funding bill? This is more of the same & exactly why this country is in such a mess. We can count on the media & government agencies to panic the public so they can spend spend spend!!! Don't put away those printing presses yet!

Posted by: letthemlive | June 12, 2009 12:51 PM | Report abuse

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