Turns out there were porky things in the stimulus bill -- only they involved swine flu, the virus suspected of killing about 150 people in Mexico. And they were stripped from the bill at the last minute. There was much squealing yesterday inside the Beltway about a $900 million provision for pandemic flu preparedness that was cut after several Republicans questioned whether it belonged in a bill intended to create jobs.
Here are the facts: The original House bill included $900 million for a "public health and social services emergency fund," of which $420 million could be used for "the development and purchase of vaccine, antivirals, necessary medical supplies, diagnostics and other surveillance tools" for pandemic influenza. The funding could also be used for the construction or renovation of private facilities producing vaccines. The rest of the fund would be used for "chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear agents," according to the House report on the bill. The Senate bill referred only to influenza and lowered the funding to $870 million.
As noted by The Nation, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a chief sculptor of the final bill, told reporters during negotiations: "Everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu. But does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No, we should not." But it wasn't all Republicans. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "All those little porky things that the House put in, the money for the [National] Mall or the sexually transmitted diseases or the flu pandemic, they're all out."
In a statement, Collins' spokesman defends her record: "There is no evidence that federal efforts to address the swine flu outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds." Dr. Richard Besser of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted yesterday that previous investments in preparedness helped them identify the outbreak quickly.