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Bush backing biosecurity bill

The Bush administration is supporting a $3.25 billion Senate bill that would enhance the nation's ability to detect and respond to biological and chemical weapons attacks, according to various administration and news sources.

The measure, entitled "The Bioterrorism Preparedness Act (S-1715)," is the product of lengthy negotiations with the White House, and CNN quoted administration and congressional sources as saying the President planned to endorse the legislation. However, U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson offered only a qualified a endorsement of the bill, saying he would "absolutely" support the bill, but only if "we can work out the dollars." He suggested that spending might be spread over two years.

The bill would earmark $1.1 billion for increased inspection of imported foods and U.S. food production facilites. Other funds would be allocated as follows:

  • $1.1 billion to increase the U.S. stockpiles of vaccines, including smallpox and anthrax
  • $1 billion ¿ including $400 million in block grants to states ¿ to improve the response of public health officials to biological or chemical attacks.
  • $700 million to enhance health care's response to bioterrorist attack.
Senators Edward Kennedy [D-Mass.] and Bill Frist [R-Tenn.] are principal sponsors of the bill, which would authorize the $3.25 billion from the current fiscal budget year. Representative Greg Ganske [R-Iowa] introduced a companion measure in the House in mid-November, while House Energy and Commerce Chairman Billy Tauzin [R-La.] was planning to introduce a "somewhat scaled-back" bill of his own. After the Senate acts, either the Gankse bill or Tauzin bill would presumably serve as the basis for negotiations on a compromise bill.

The Bush administration had proposed $1.5 billion as part of September's larger $40 billion emergency measure. During a news conference, Kennedy and Frist indicated they were confident their bill would be funded by year-end 2000, though they declined to speculate whether funding would come from the $40 billion emergency package or another source. "The leadership is behind the bill, the appropriators are behind the bill, and we believe we can find the money," Kennedy said.

The bill has strong bipartisan support in the Senate, having been co-sponsored by 38 other senators of both parties, including Dianne Feinstein [D-Calif.] and Tom Harkin [D-Iowa]. As chairman of the Labor/HHS appropriations subcommittee, Harkin would presumably play a key role in finding funds to support the bill.

HHS's bioterrorism budget for last year was about $350 million.

Kennedy indicated he would be seeking more bioterrorism funding in the future, characterizing the $3.1 billion bill as only a "down payment." Kennedy has proposed spending as much as $10 billion to combat bioterrorism.

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