WASHINGTON, April 28 (UPI) -- U.S. President Obama asked Congress Tuesday to include $1.5 billion in the 2009 supplemental budget to respond to a potential swine flu outbreak.
"These funds should be provided with maximum flexibility to allow us to address this emerging situation," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs read from a letter Obama sent to congressional leaders. "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."
Local, state and federal public health officials are working around the clock to respond quickly and effectively "wherever cases of this flu may be found and to prepare the entire country for any potential progression of this outbreak," the letter read.
His letter was sent as Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a Senate appropriations subcommittee chairman, conducted an emergency hearing on the U.S. public health response to the flu outbreak.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats Monday said Republicans set back U.S. readiness by blocking nearly $1 billion in funding from the economic stimulus bill passed in February, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.
Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement in which he criticized lawmakers who opposed the funding for pandemic flu.
"We are not prepared today. Let's hope we don't need to be," Obey said. "I intend to again request additional funds" in another budget proposal.
During the stimulus debate, moderate Senate Republicans and some moderate Democrats negotiated the deal that blocked most of the funding. At the time, critics said the funds wouldn't stimulate the economy in the short term and didn't belong in the $787 billion spending bill. Several opponents said they opposed the funding being included because they thought its consideration should go through the normal legislative process.
However, both sides agreed that the money wouldn't have helped much in the current outbreak because there wasn't time for the money to reach federal agencies, the Journal said.