Homeland Security Provision To Make CDC Lead Bioterrorism Agency Cut from Bill
House, Senate and White House negotiators last week stripped a provision from the homeland security legislation that would have established the CDC as the "lead agency in fighting bioterrorism," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Sponsored by Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), the provision would have created a Center for Bioterrorism Preparedness that would have been responsible for organizing health and law enforcement specialists in the event of a bioterrorist attack. The CDC already handles most of the responsibilities that would have been moved to the new center, but those tasks are spread throughout the agency. Congressional staffers said House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) opposed the provision because it would take "flexibility" away from the secretary of the proposed Homeland Security Department (Eversley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/19).
In related news, Senate Republicans have reportedly "wrapped up" the votes needed to defeat a Democratic amendment that would strip several provisions, including one addressing vaccine liability, from the homeland security legislation (Mullins/Wegner, CongressDaily/AM, 11/19). Last week, the House passed a homeland security measure that includes a provision that would protect vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits filed over allegations that thimerosal, a mercury-based vaccine preservative, causes autism in children (California Healthline, 11/18). If the amendment is defeated, the Senate would be clear to hold a final vote on the homeland security legislation and end the lame-duck session as early as today. However, if the amendment is approved, the House would need to decide whether to return to active session to resolve the differences (CongressDaily/AM, 11/19). President Bush has lobbied "wavering" senators to vote against the amendment, and Vice President Richard Cheney has been asked to be available to break a voting tie if necessary (Dewar, Washington Post, 11/19).
According to a Los Angeles Times editorial, the homeland security bill should protect the United States against terrorism, but "Republican Santas have turned it into a magical sleigh brimming with early Christmas gifts for favored special interests," such as a provision that would that would limit liability for vaccine manufacturers. The editorial states that the provision would increase protections for businesses and reduce them for the public. According to the editorial, "It's a good thing" that Senate Democrats "are willing to play Scrooge and ... protest all the favors that Republican lawmakers have smuggled into the bill." The editorial concludes, "Homeland security should produce a good bill, not a bunch of goodies" (Los Angeles Times, 11/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.