Democrats Ignore Bioterrorism Veto Threat, Push for Funds
Senate Democrats today will attempt to add $7.5 billion for bioterrorism prevention and other homeland protection measures to the annual defense spending bill, even though President Bush has threatened to veto any additional spending on homeland security, the Washington Post reports. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, will push for an amendment that would allocate about $4 billion for bioterrorism prevention and protection of the food supply (Morgan, Washington Post, 12/6). This $4 billion was proposed last month by Appropriation Committee members Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) during markup of the defense appropriations bill (California Healthline, 11/30). The funding would be in addition to the $3 billion already appropriated for chemical and biological defense as part of a $40 billion emergency spending plan approved shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The White House, however, is pressuring Senate Republicans to use parliamentary procedures to block the extra funding from the defense appropriations bill. The Post reports that White House officials are opposing the appropriations not solely due to "fiscal soundness" but also to illustrate the "administration's authority" in the war effort. White House Budget Director Mitchell Daniels said today's debate is "about who will lead in this area. We have more than enough money for the next several months. (Congress) should let us propose the nature, amount and time of subsequent action." Byrd, however, said the extra funding is needed now to protect "American blood ... at home or abroad." He added, "For this country to be in a state of emergency .. and then be told we ought to wait until next spring [for added funds] is mind-boggling." Robert Reischauer, president of the Urban Institute and former director of the Congressional Budget Office, said the White House would prefer to present its own package of homeland security measures next year as what the Post calls "the politically popular portion of what is expected to be a stringent budget that cuts other programs" (Washington Post, 12/6).
Meanwhile, in the House, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the committee's ranking member, have reached an agreement on a bioterrorism bill that strengthens food safety and controls on biological agents, CongressDaily/AM reports. The details are scheduled to be released at a press conference today. Tauzin met with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) yesterday to "urge" him to bring the bill to the floor instead of a competing bill that is based on a Senate measure sponsored by Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) (CongressDaily/AM, 12/6). The Frist-Kennedy plan is a $3.2 billion bioterrorism authorization bill (a bill that allocates funding for a program or agency but does not actually release the funds) that would give $1.1 billion to states, including $670 million in grants for bioterrorism preparedness. The bill also would provide $500 million to protect food supplies and crops and $120 million for the CDC to improve its medical response system and laboratories and create a national laboratory network. A spokesperson for Tauzin said, "We have struck a deal on a bill, which in many respects, we believe is much better than the Senate's bioterrorism bill" (CongressDaily/AM, 12/6). In other bioterrorism news, the National Governors Association has requested that Congress appropriate at least $3 billion to state public health systems to "prepare for biological attacks" and assist local law enforcement efforts (Washington Post, 12/6).