House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat whose attempt to secure needed funding for pandemic preparedness was blocked earlier this year after Senate Republicans ridiculed the request, says the U.S. remains unprepared to address a serious public health emergency.
So Obey, who has battled Republicans and Democrats in his long struggle to secure adequate resources to prepare for a global pandemic, will try again to secure the needed money.
The determined Democrat is still getting push back. But his mission should be easier, now that a swine flu outbreak that began in Mexico has spread sufficiently so that the World Health Organization has raised its pandemic alert level to Phase 4 — indicating significant increased risk of a pandemic.
With an outbreak now blamed for the deaths of 149 people in Mexico, and spreading sickness to states across the U.S., Obey says: “Whether or not this influenza strain turns out to have pandemic potential, sooner or later some strain will. We are not prepared today. Let’s hope we don’t need to be.”
According to the a href=”http://healthyamericans.org/”>Trust for America’s Health, which advocates for pandemic preparedness, “State and local officials are the front line responders to outbreaks, yet they have not received any federal funding for pandemic flu preparedness since FY 2006. $350 million is needed annually to adequately maintain state and local pandemic preparedness activities.”
But that, say experts, is merely a “baseline,” not enough money to do all that would be necessary.
Conscious of the shortfall, and the human and economic threats that extend from it, Obey has been scrambling since last year to get needed money to public-health agencies.
The House stimulus bill, as drafted by the appropriations committee chair in January, included $870 million for advanced biomedical research, development and security initiatives. Of that figure, $420 was specifically targeted for pandemic preparedness.
House Democrats backed the measure.
But then, urged on by Republican strategist Karl Rove, Senate Republicans led by Maine Senator Susan Collins attacked the public-health spending and successfully eliminated it from the Senate version of the stimulus. Collins complained at the time to CNN that: “There’s funding to help improve our preparedness for a pandemic flu. There is funding to help improve cyber security. What does that have to do with an economic stimulus package?”