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Would More Pork Have Protected Us Against Swine?

Today, the liberal blogosphere slammed Republican Senator Susan Collins for leading the charge of "GOP Know-Nothings" who stripped funds for pandemic-flu preparedness from the stimulus bill. "[T]hey bet that they would be able to score their political points without any consequences," blasted The Nation's John Nichols, railing against the "supposedly moderate" Collins. At the time of bill negotiations, Collins said that the funds--dedicated to researching and increasing the supply of flu vaccines--wouldn't boost the economy enough to warrant their inclusion in the stimulus. "Everybody in the room is concerned about a pandemic flu, but does it belong in this bill? Should we have 870 million dollars in this bill?" Collins said on MSNBC in February. "No, we should not."

Collins's office dismissed the stimulus-linked criticism as "blatantly false and politically motivated," and claimed that she's long been a leader on pandemic flu preparedness as part of her work to fight bioterrorism in the Senate. Plus, as Collins' communications director, Kevin Kelley, wrote me in an email: "There is no evidence that federal efforts to address the swine flu outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds," today. (When I spoke with Richard Hamburg, a representative from Trust for America's Health, an epidemic disease advocacy group, he admitted that "anything that delays preparedness is not a good thing, but you can't really quantify how much the delay in funding has delayed [swine flu] preparedness.")

But when Collins' spokesman goes on to explain what the government could be doing differently to prepare itself for the outbreak, the tone suddenly changes. "Senator Collins does, however, believe that it is a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Health and Human Services still do not have top positions filled," Kelley said. "She hopes the Senate will move promptly to confirm Governor Sebelius for HHS Secretary." So after pushing back against her liberal critics, Collins explicitly puts herself to the left of her GOP colleagues who have been trying to obstruct Sebelius's nomination. At the least, Collins hasn't given up on trying to redeem herself as a genuine centrist.

--Suzy Khimm