Senators Introduce $3.2B Bipartisan Bioterrorism Bill
As expected, Sens. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) yesterday introduced a $3.2 billion bill to bolster the nation's defenses against bioterrorism, the Washington Post reports. The bill calls for improving the nation's vaccine and antibiotics stockpile, increased funding for the CDC, strengthened food inspections and the allotment of new resources to state and local officials for bioterrorism preparedness. Kennedy said, "The anthrax attack of the past weeks has sounded the alarm. The clock is ticking on America's preparedness for a future attack. We've had the clearest possible warning, and we can't afford to ignore it." The cost of the Senate bill is more than double the amount that the Bush administration has proposed (Dewar, Washington Post, 11/16). The $1.5 billion administration proposal would give states $300 million to prepare for biological or chemical attacks and would spend the remainder "largely" on drugs and vaccines. The administration intends to spend $509 million on 300 million doses of the smallpox vaccine and another $643 million on expanding the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, a supply of medicines and other materials that could be used after a germ attack. Like the Bush plan, the Senate proposal includes $509 million for the smallpox vaccine and $643 million for the drug stockpile, but the Senate bill would give $1.1 billion to states, including $670 million in grants for bioterrorism preparedness (Stolberg, New York Times, 11/16). The Kennedy-Frist-Gregg 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 (Washington Post, 11/16).
During a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing yesterday, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said he would support the Senate bill, but "only if we can work out" the dollar amount. He added that President Bush does not want to approve new spending beyond the $40 billion already set aside as part of an emergency measure. Thompson suggested that $3.2 billion called for by the Senate bill could be spread out over two years (Meckler, AP/Boston Globe, 11/16). Scott McClellan, a Bush administration spokesperson, said that the president views the Senate bill as "an important step toward reaching bipartisan consensus." Rep. Greg Ganske (R-Iowa) said he intends to introduce in the House legislation identical to the Kennedy-Frist-Gregg bill (New York Times, 11/16). House Commerce Committee Chair Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said yesterday that he is putting the "finishing touches" on a $2.1 billion plan that "parallels" the bipartisan Senate plan but would cost less than that plan because it uses exiting funding sources. Tauzin said the House could pass the Senate measure or vote on its own version and "swiftly resolve any differences" in a conference committee (Washington Post, 11/16). Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) said yesterday that the bioterrorism bill "has to be passed" before Congress leaves for the year. He added that the measure could move as part of the fiscal year 2002 Defense Department appropriation bill or the stimulus package or on its own (Rovner, CongressDaily/AM, 11/16).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.