WASHINGTON, DC- Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) today released the following statement after U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt attended a pandemic flu summit with Maryland Governor Robert Ehrlich in Baltimore.
"There is a serious looming threat facing the health and safety of Americans today - a pandemic influenza outbreak. Yet the Bush Administration has for too long ignored repeated warnings about the serious shortcomings in our preparedness for a flu pandemic, just as was the case with Hurricane Katrina.
"Last fall, after consistent pressure from Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, the Bush Administration released a $7.1 billion funding request to deal with a potential pandemic flu outbreak. Unlike Hurricane Katrina, for which we had only days of notice, public health authorities have been warning of a pandemic flu outbreak for many years.
"Regrettably, Congressional Republicans have appropriated only $3.8 billion of the President's request so far. Furthermore, while they have granted sweeping liability protections for vaccine manufacturers, Republicans have refused to provide a compensation system for health care workers, first responders, nurses, and patients who may become injured.
"While I welcome this important discussion, today's summit is not a substitute for swift action on a comprehensive pandemic flu package. Democrats have offered a real plan.
"Unfortunately, Republicans have continually rejected our proposal to strengthen flu vaccine production, improve state and local public health preparedness, and increase our leadership on the global effort to detect and contain the flu pandemic.
"As the Bush administration continues to analyze what went wrong in response to Hurricane Katrina, they must proactively work to prepare for a pandemic flu outbreak.
"The victims of Hurricane Katrina know all to well that plans and intentions are not good enough. This inevitable crisis requires real action.
"By passing the comprehensive Democratic bill to prepare for a flu pandemic, we can truly make our country safer."