Lawmakers Reject Funding for Avian Flu in Labor-HHS-Education Measure
Lawmakers in the House-Senate conference committee on the fiscal year 2006 spending bill (HR 3010) for the Departments of Labor, HHS and Education agreed to a discretionary spending level of $142.5 billion and rejected any emergency spending items, including funding to combat an outbreak of avian flu, CQ Today reports. House Appropriations Committee Chair Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) told senators that avian flu funding likely would be addressed in a bill for Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
The Senate version of the Labor-HHS-Education spending bill had included nearly $8 billion in emergency funds to combat the avian flu. The House bill contained no provision for avian flu spending.
According to CQ Today, some House conservatives have questioned the need for avian flu funding because they say there are no indications that a pandemic is imminent. In addition, Senate and House conferees agreed to a $253 million increase in NIH funding for FY 2006 to $28.6 billion.
Senate Appropriations Labor, HHS and Education Subcommittee Chair Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had called for an increase of $1.1 billion to $29.4 billion (Swindell, CQ Today, 11/14).
The Hill published several opinion pieces by members of Congress and an infectious disease specialist regarding the Bush administration's avian flu preparedness plan. Summaries appear below.
- Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.): Although Bush's plan indicates "the president's steadfast leadership and commitment to American's health," the plan "will fail if the American people do not trust ... the vaccines and drugs they receive," Burton writes. According to Burton, "[I]t is vitally important that we as members of Congress ensure the safety of vaccines as much as possible" and "oppose any effort to grant the vaccine industry blanket immunity" (Burton, The Hill, 11/15).
- Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa): Bush's plan -- while "sound" overall -- "falls dangerously short in preparing state and local health agencies to cope with the cataclysm of a pandemic," Harkin writes. According to Harkin, "It is a mistake to force yet another unfunded mandate on state governments at a time when they are already desperately short of resources to prepare for a pandemic" (Harkin, The Hill, 11/15).
- Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.): "Rather than adequately boosting our nationwide stockpiles, the plan puts an unfunded mandate on state and local governments to purchase their own stockpiles of antiviral medications," Lowey writes. In addition, "the plan does not provide sufficient funds for preventive and educational measures in foreign countries where an American pandemic would likely originate," Lowey says, adding, "[W]e must face the reality that infectious-disease outbreaks are not isolated health problems half a world away" (Lowey, The Hill, 11/15).
- Paul Offit: "We must strengthen" the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program "by disallowing an 'opt out' of the program ... as well as by extending the program to include a vaccine against pandemic influenza," Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, writes. He continues, "Otherwise, in the name of 'consumer protection,' we will be hurting consumers far more than we will be helping them" (Offit, The Hill, 11/15).
- Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.): "Pushing to state and local authorities the burden of responding to a threat without providing them guidance and assistance for preparing for such a threat is not a winning strategy," Thompson writes. He adds, "Our communities are very capable, but they need qualified leadership and guidance from the federal government on how to handle a threat that will know no borders" (Thompson, The Hill, 11/15).
- Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.): "It would be a mistake to implement plans to combat pandemic influenza without also building public confidence" about vaccine safety, Weldon writes. He concludes, "In a true pandemic, we cannot afford to have our carefully planned and coordinated response ... stopped dead in its tracks because we took public confidence for granted" (Weldon, The Hill, 11/15).