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House Democrats Seek $1.5 Billion for Swine Flu Vaccine

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday gathered for a swine flu briefing with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and vowed to provide emergency funding to combat the possible pandemic.

The swine flu “is, of course, a cause for concern,— House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said after the meeting, which included presentations from Napolitano, newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and various committee chairmen.

Republicans, including House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.), were also in attendance.

“We feel quite fortunate that the systems are in place to work,— Larson said. “We want to make sure we’re prepared but not panicked.—

The briefing came just as the World Health Organization raised the pandemic flu alert level to the second-highest threat, a “phase 5.—

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) has already requested that $1.5 billion be added to the $83.4 billion supplemental spending bill for flu vaccines. Larson and House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said they expected the full amount of funding to be approved by both chambers.

The only U.S. swine flu death reported so far has been a 22-month-old toddler in Texas. Larson noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will have daily updates on its Web site on the status of the spreading virus.

“Right now, the operative word is common sense,— House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif) said. “Wash your hands. Do the basic things you’re always told to do when it’s flu season.—

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