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Monday, May 11, 2009

 5:28 PM 

Obey calls for $2 billion boost in pandemic preparedness

House Appropriations Committee Chair U.S. Rep. David Obey said today he will request $2 billion to beef up the nation's ability to respond to pandemic diseases in a supplemental appropriations bill being drafted.

Obey's call comes as the number of cases of the H1N1 flu virus, also known as "swine flu," is increasing in America and globally.

The appropriation would providing funds to build up the nation's stockpile of antiviral medication, speed up development of a vaccine, increase monitoring and laboratory capacity, and fund other related purposes, Obey told reporters during a conference call this morning. The bill would also include $350 million to assist states in strengthening and rebuilding their public health programs, Obey said.

Obey noted that he had included $900 million in the stimulus bill to deal with pandemic flu, but he said it was pulled out from the Senate version at the urging of Republicans who argued it was unrelated to the economy.

Obey pointed to the H1N1 flu's effect on the Mexican economy, which he said is in "shambles" because of it.

"When you close schools, when you shut down as many businesses as they have in Mexico, it has a huge depressing effect on the economy," Obey said.

Obey said some 11,000 public health professionals have been laid off due to the slumping economy, which the money for state programs aims to address.

"Anytime we lose 11,000 people in the public health care system because of the economic crunch, that creates a severe hole in our capacity to respond and to protect the public's health," Obey said. "We were right to put than money in the stimulus package in January, and we're right to pursue a much larger effort now."

He also noted that previous congresses had failed to fully fund former President George W. Bush's efforts to boost pandemic preparedness.

Obey said it's unclear how severe the flu will be this season or when it reemerges next season, but the nation needs to be prepared.

"Eventually, we will face a severe pandemic, and we need to greatly expand the country's ability to deal with it," Obey said.

Obey also discussed a bill that passed the House yesterday meant to protect credit card holders, saying the credit card industry has been a "racket" that levied $19 billion in penalties to consumers last year through sometimes "shady" practices. The bill is now headed to the Senate.


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