Fear about a worldwide flu epidemic helped House DFLers make a point with reporters Monday: Weaken the state's network of hospitals and community clinics with deep state spending cuts, as Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposes, and Minnesota will be less able to handle a major outbreak of infectious disease.

Rep. Tom Huntley, the Duluth DFLer who heads the House's health and human services funding panel, said space to handle a rush of acute illness or injury is already in short supply in Twin Cities hospitals. An accident that produced hundreds of injuries at once would already necessitate transporting patients to hospitals as far away as Rochester and Duluth, he said.

That situation would be made much worse by Pawlenty's proposed $760 million in cuts to hospitals, Huntley said. By comparision, the bill he will take to the House floor later Monday cuts hospital spending $76 million over the next two years. Successfully combatting a flu epidemic would require an adequately functioning network of community clinics and hospitals, "as well as frequent handwashing," added St. Paul DFL Rep. Erin Murphy.