WASHINGTON – In a near unanimous vote for funding the nation's defense from bioterror, the House moved Congress one step closer to securing $2.9 billion in vaccine stockpiles and food and water security measures.
The bill, passed by a 418-2 margin Wednesday, is a smaller version of a measure moving through the Senate. It authorizes more than $1 billion for states and health care facilities to improve readiness and personnel training, gives $450 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to upgrade its facility and allocates $1 billion for the Health and Human Services secretary to expand national stockpiles of medicine and vaccine.
Imported food protections will get $100 million, and $100 million more will go to developing emergency response plans for drinking-water systems.
The bill also requires labs possessing the 36 most deadly biological agents to register in a national database.
The bill's passage underscores Congress' heightened awareness to potential biological attacks. In October, Capitol Hill was shut down after it received at least two anthrax-laced letters. The Hart Senate Office Building is still closed.
"We need to pay far more attention to the first responders ... and to the safeguards needed to minimize threats in the future," said Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.
Complaints from the food industry accompanied the bill, however. Susan Stout, vice president of federal affairs for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, said the bill unnecessarily expands government regulations over food.
"If there is any weakness in the current system, it's not from a lack of authority. It's from a lack of resources," Stout said.
The Senate is currently negotiating a $3.2 billion bill proposed by Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn. Both bills pull their funding from the $20 billion in anti-terrorism spending Congress has already authorized.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., said he was confident President Bush would sign the House version.
Bush originally proposed spending $1.5 billion, including money to buy 300 million doses of smallpox vaccine — one for every American.
If the Senate passes its own version, House and Senate negotiators will have to meet to craft a compromise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.