For the past several years, Democrats have highlighted the need to prepare for the possibility of pandemic influenza and pushed the Bush Administration and past Republican-controlled Congresses to act. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration and many Congressional Republicans were slow to respond and unconvinced of the urgent need to prepare the country for a public health emergency.
Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Democrats and Republicans came together to pass legislation improving the nation’s emergency preparedness and response capacity. In June 2002, Congress passed and the President signed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (P.L. 107-188), a law that improved national preparedness activities for bioterrorism and other public health emergencies.
In July 2004, Congress passed and the President signed the Project BioShield Act (P.L. 108-276). This law gives the federal government greater flexibility in developing countermeasures for and responding to an attack using chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear agents. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) used the authority provided by Project BioShield in response to the 2009 H.R.1N1 influenza A outbreak to ease distribution of antiviral medication and to approve certain respirators and diagnostic tests for emergency use.
When Democrats resumed leadership of the Senate at the beginning of the 1110th Congress, we focused on funding the government’s pandemic flu preparedness activities and oversight of the plans that, as a result of their insistence, were in place to respond to a potential pandemic flu.
Democrats pressed the Bush Administration and past Republican-controlled Congresses for a pandemic influenza preparedness plan, insisted on providing the funds needed to prevent and prepare for a pandemic flu, conducted oversight hearings, and continued to introduce legislation to improve the government’s preparedness for and potential response to a public health emergency such as pandemic influenza.
Our nation is well-equipped to respond to the emergency of the H.R.1N1 influenza virus due to the work Senate Democrats have done over the past several years. This document details Senate Democrats’ commitment to ensuring that local and state governments, the federal government, as well as private and nonprofit members of the public health infrastructure, have every necessary resource at their disposal to keep Americans safe from pandemic flu.
Senate Democrats Press for a Pandemic Flu Plan
As various novel influenza viruses began to emerge around the globe, Senate Democrats recognized the need for a federal government-wide plan to coordinate the nation’s response, should these viruses make their way to the U.S. With Senate Democrats’ pushing them every step of the way, the Bush Administration slowly developed, released, finalized and began to implement a pandemic influenza preparedness plan.
- In January 2004, Senator Kennedy asked then-Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tommy Thompson to release and implement the pandemic influenza preparedness plan.
- In August 2004, HHS released a draft pandemic influenza preparedness plan.
- In April 2005, then-Senator Obama introduced the AVIAN Act (S.969), the first comprehensive bill addressing the threat of pandemic influenza.
- In September 2005, Senator Reid took to the Senate floor urging immediate action to prepare for the threat of pandemic influenza and expressing the importance of immediately committing the resources necessary to protect Americans. Senator Reid stated that the nation could not wait any longer for the Bush Administration to finalize its pandemic influenza preparedness plan and announced that Democrats would offer a pandemic preparedness amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill. That amendment, detailed below, provided a $3.9 billion investment in pandemic flu preparedness.
- On October 4, 2005, Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Bush urging him to release a final pandemic plan. The following day, Senate Democrats introduced comprehensive legislation, the Pandemic Preparedness and Response Act (S.1821), to help America prepare for and protect against the threat of a flu pandemic.
- In November 2005, President Bush released a final pandemic influenza preparedness plan.
- On May 3, 2006, the Bush Administration finally released its Implementation Plan for the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza.
- The same day, Senator Kennedy released a report entitled, “Too Little Too Late: The Bush Administration’s Record of Failure in Preparing for Pandemic Flu.” The report detailed failures of the Bush Administration and Republican-led Congress to adequately prepare the United States for pandemic influenza, due to limited appropriations, lack of coordination among government entities, and an overly narrow focus on only a few of the actions necessary to prepare the nation for pandemic influenza.
Senate Democrats Push for Critical Preparedness Funding
Long before the Bush Administration finalized its pandemic flu plan, Senate Democrats recognized the need to provide additional resources to local, state, and federal governments, as well as private and nonprofit members of the public health infrastructure, to advance domestic preparedness activities, improve vaccine availability, and continue stockpiling antiviral medications and medical supplies.
- In March 2005, then-Senator Obama successfully amended the Foreign Relations Committee Authorization Act to authorize $25 million for international efforts to combat avian influenza and called on then-President Bush to create an inter-agency task force composed of representatives of the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, and other appropriate agencies. The same month, then-Senator Obama offered a successful amendment to the Senate Budget Resolution to allocate $25 million for international efforts to combat avian flu.
- In May 2005, Senate Democrats secured $58 million in the Supplemental Appropriations bill (P.L. 109-13) to purchase more antiviral medication for the Strategic National Stockpile to better prepare for pandemic influenza. This law also directed $25 million to USAID for programs to control the global spread of the avian flu.
- On September 29, 2005, Senate Democrats, led by Senators Harkin, Obama, Reid, Durbin, Bayh, and Dodd, successfully amended the Fiscal Year (FY) 2006 defense and emergency supplemental appropriations bill (P.L. 109-141) $3.9 billion to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund pandemic flu preparedness.
- In October 2005, the Senate approved an amendment by Senator Harkin to the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill adding $8 billion to prepare for and protect against the threat of an avian flu pandemic.
- In November 2005, President Bush released a final pandemic influenza preparedness plan and requested $7.1 billion in emergency supplemental funding for pandemic flu preparedness, almost a billion dollars less than what Senate Democrats had successfully included in the Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill.
- In December 2005, the Republican-controlled Congress approved only $3.8 billion to prepare for a flu pandemic in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill (P.L. 109-148) – less than half of the $8 billion the Senate had passed through the Harkin amendment. This occurred despite Senator Reid’s efforts to work with then-Majority Leader Frist, including a December 14, 2005 letter, to maintain the $8 billion in pandemic flu preparedness funding provided by the Harkin amendment.
- In February 2006, Democrats fought to include $2.3 billion in additional funding for HHS in a second emergency supplemental appropriations bill passed during FY2006 (P.L. 109-234). These funds were to advance domestic preparedness activities, improve vaccine availability, and continue stockpiling antiviral medications and medical supplies.
- On February 3, 2006, 32 Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Bush, calling on him to make pandemic flu preparedness a priority in his Fiscal Year 2007 budget. The President’s FY2006 budget included approximately half of what the Bush Administration determined was necessary.
- On February 6, 2006, President Bush released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2007, including a $2.3 billion allowance for pandemic influenza activities, which when combined with the $3.8 billion approved in December still provided even less than the $7.1 billion the President requested in November.
- On February 16, 2006, the President did not include the $2.3 billion in pandemic flu funding in his emergency supplemental budget request to Congress. Fortunately, during the Appropriations Committee markup of the supplemental in early April, an amendment offered by Senator Harkin to add $2.3 billion in pandemic flu funding was approved by voice vote, and the funding was included in the version of the supplemental signed into law on June 15, 2006 (P.L. 109-234).
- In March 2006, Senator Conrad offered an amendment to the budget resolution for FY2007 that would have increased funding for flu pandemic preparedness by $5 billion, but the amendment was defeated by Senate Republicans. Instead, Republicans offered an amendment to create a reserve fund for flu pandemic preparedness but did not include any funds for it.
- On May 1, 2007, President Bush vetoed legislation passed by the Democratic-led Congress which would have provided $625 million for pandemic flu preparedness at HHS (H.R.1591). Among other things, the Bush Administration opposed funding for “avian flu preparedness,” insisting it was adequately funded in the Fiscal Year 2008 budget request. The provision was dropped from the U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act (P.L. 110-28) in order to ensure the President would sign the bill.
- November 13, 2007, President Bush vetoed the FY2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill (H.R.3043). This legislation would have provided $870 million to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic, including funds for vaccines, antiviral medications, medical supplies, diagnostics and surveillance tools. In order to pass a bill the President would sign, pandemic flu funding was reduced to $302 million in P.L. 110-161.
- On January 27, 2009, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included $870 million for pandemic flu preparedness activities. Unfortunately, this funding was removed as a condition for final passage and, therefore, was not included in the final version of the legislation signed into law by President Obama (P.L. 111-5).
- On March 10, 2009, the Senate approved the Fiscal Year 2009 Omnibus Appropriations bill. Led by Democrats, this legislation (P.L. 111-8) included $818 million for pandemic flu preparedness.
- On April 28, 2009, President Obama requested $1.5 billion in emergency appropriations to respond to the H.R.1N1 influenza virus, and Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Reid and Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harkin, indicated the Senate was poised to comply with the President’s request.
- On May 7, 2009, President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget Request included $584 million for pandemic flu preparedness. This funding is in addition to the $1.5 billion requested in April as part of the emergency supplemental appropriations.
- On May 14, 2009, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2009 Supplemental Appropriations bill, including $1.5 billion to prepare for and respond to a global disease pandemic, including the H.R.1N1 influenza virus.
Senate Democrats Review Government Plans and Practices
Even before January 2007, when Democrats re-gained the majority in the Senate, Democrats began oversight of the government’s preparedness activities and implementation of the legislation and funding they had fought for during previous Congresses.
- On April 5, 2006, Senator Clinton hosted a meeting of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee to discuss pandemic flu preparedness and response. Democratic Senators and experts from across the public health spectrum discussed public health infrastructure, pandemic flu countermeasures, and the threat of avian flu.
- On September 28, 2007, Senator Akaka, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia, held an oversight hearing regarding the role of Federal Executive Boards in federal workforce emergency preparedness, particularly with regard to pandemic influenza.
- On October 3, 2007, Senator Lieberman held a hearing in the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee to examine state, local, and private sector preparedness for pandemic influenza.
- On April 28, 2009, Senator Harkin, Chairman of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, held a hearing to examine the public health response to the H.R.1N1 influenza virus. At the hearing, Senator Harkin noted that, to date, the subcommittee had provided more than $6 billion for pandemic flu preparedness activities since fiscal year 2006.
- On April 29, 2009, Senator Kennedy, Chairman of the HELP Committee, held a hearing examining the public health and medical responses to the H.R.1N1 influenza virus. The same day, Senator Lieberman, Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held a hearing on coordinating the federal response to the H.R.1N1 influenza virus.
Senate Democrats Work to Improve Pandemic Influenza Preparedness and Response Capabilities
While pushing for a pandemic influenza preparedness plan, pressing for funding of prevention and preparedness activities, and overseeing the government’s activities in this area, Senate Democrats have continued to offer legislation to improve and advance the nation’s preparedness efforts.
- In January 2004, Senators Bayh, Landrieu and Durbin introduced the Flu Protection Act (S.2038) to strengthen the nation’s vaccine supply and establish a plan to prevent, prepare for, and respond to an influenza pandemic.
- In October 2004, as the nation faced influenza vaccine shortages, Senator Kennedy requested from Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs Lester Crawford a complete record of all contact between FDA and Chiron Corporation, a major supplier of influenza vaccine to the United States. While Chiron had announced problems with vaccine production back in August 2004, FDA claimed to be surprised by the early October announcement that Chiron’s Liverpool facility had lost its license to produce vaccine. Kennedy expressed the great importance of a stable, effective vaccine supply to protect Americans from seasonal flu, which is also necessary to respond to a pandemic influenza outbreak.
- In July 2005, Senator Kennedy introduced the Vaccines Access and Supply Act (S.1527) to strengthen vaccine infrastructure and help prepare our nation for pandemic influenza.
- On October 17, 2005, Senator Kennedy introduced the National Biodefense and Pandemic Preparedness Act (S.1880). This legislation was the basis for the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (P.L. 109-417), which improved the government’s public health and medical response capabilities.
- On April 26, 2007, Senator Lieberman introduced the Wildlife GAINS Act (S.1246), to help government learn the role of wild birds in the H.R.5N1 virus and to disseminate surveillance data to provide an early warning system around the globe. While the legislation did not become law, USAID has begun to implement the program.
- On December 12, 2007, Senator Clinton introduced the Influenza Vaccine Security Act (S.2456) to improve and secure our nation’s supply of influenza vaccine, improve vaccine distribution, and improve stockpiling of supplies to prevent and treat pandemic influenza.
- On December 19, 2007, Senator Menendez introduced the Worker Infection Protection Act (S.2526) to direct the Secretaries of Labor and HHS to develop a plan to protect first responders and health care workers at risk of exposure to infection in the event of pandemic influenza.
- On July 24, 2008, Senator Durbin, with Senators Bingaman, Casey, and Feingold, introduced the Public Health Emergency Response Act (S.3312). This legislation would guarantee medical treatment for victims of a public health emergency, regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay.
- On May 1, 2009, Senator Harkin introduced the Seasonal Influenza and Pandemic Preparation Act of 2009 (S.953), to establish a nationwide influenza vaccination program to provide free influenza vaccine to all Americans.
- On May 1, 2009, Senator Durbin, with Senators Bingaman, Casey, and Feingold, reintroduced the Public Health Emergency Response Act (S.957) to guarantee medical treatment for victims of a public health emergency, regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay.