President Obama Requests $1.5B in Supplemental Bill To Combat Swine Flu
President Obama on Tuesday in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee requested an additional $1.5 billion in the fiscal year 2009 war supplemental appropriations bill to address the recent swine flu emergency and prepare for a possible epidemic, CongressDaily reports (House/Condon, CongressDaily, 4/28). The letter comes one day after the White House said that no additional funds were required to address the public health emergency. However, additional confirmed cases of swine flu in the U.S. in the day after the White House announcement and the likelihood of more cases prompted Obama's request (Armstrong, CQ Today, 4/28). In the letter, Obama wrote that he requested the funds after "carefully monitoring" the public health emergency, "assessing the risk" and "out of an abundance of caution" (CongressDaily, 4/28).
As of Tuesday, CDC had confirmed 64 U.S. cases of swine flu. The agency on Wednesday confirmed the first U.S. swine flu-related death, involving a 23-month-old child in Texas (Moore, USA Today, 4/29). According to CDC acting Administrator Richard Besser, the rise in confirmed cases does not necessarily indicate that the flu is spreading. Instead, it shows that more people with symptoms are being tested, Besser said (CQ Today, 4/28). However, Besser added, "As this moves forward, I fully expect that we will see deaths from this infection" (Robbins/McNeil, New York Times, 4/29).
The House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the war supplemental appropriations bill next week, which Chair David Obey (D-Wis.) said will include Obama's request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, "Among the uses of these funds could be supplementing antiviral stockpiles; developing a vaccine; supporting the monitoring, diagnostic, and public health response capabilities; and assisting international efforts to stem this outbreak" (CQ Today, 4/28).
The U.S. needs to take several steps to address the swine flu emergency, including quickly developing and distributing a vaccine, representatives of health organizations testified during a Senate Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, CongressDaily reports. According to representatives of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and two other groups, such efforts would cost about $1 billion, including $563 million to purchase vaccines and protective gear for first responders and other health workers who come in contact with swine flu; $350 million to help state and local health agencies continue pandemic flu preparedness; and $122 million to purchase an additional eight million vaccine doses to replenish the nation's stockpile.
Subcommittee Chair Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he will seek to add $870 million to the war supplemental appropriations bill -- the exact amount that was removed from the economic stimulus package earlier this year -- to fund the development of vaccines and build the facilities necessary to develop them (Sanders, CongressDaily, 4/29).
Although federal health officials have declared the confirmed cases of swine flu a public health emergency, the "sheer volume of media attention suggest[s] a full-blown crisis," according to the Washington Post (Kurtz, Washington Post, 4/28). Medical professionals said that without the news coverage the public "would be dangerously unaware of the swine flu outbreak ... perhaps without saturation coverage on cable news networks and the velocity of information on the Internet, the public would not be so hysterical," according to the New York Times (Arango/Stelter, New York Times, 4/29).
MSNBC President Phil Griffin said, "This is one of the hazards of 24-hour Internet-media-television," adding, "It's obviously a big story and you want to give it attention. I do think we have to be careful not to overstate it and not make people scared to death." CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta said that some reporting "if taken the wrong way, can cause undue excitement. But it can also calm or allay people's fears. You have to make sure what you're saying is absolutely credible and not sensational" (Washington Post, 4/28).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday reported on Obama's funding request and the committee hearing. The segment includes comments from Besser about states' efforts to address the swine flu emergency (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 4/28).