WASHINGTON – The House, trying "to think as evilly as we could," overwhelmingly passed a $4.6 billion bill Wednesday aimed at strengthening the nation's bioterrorism preparedness by stockpiling vaccines and boosting inspections of food coming across borders.
The 425-1 vote capped a months-long effort sparked by post-Sept. 11 concerns that included anthrax-tainted letters sent to Capitol Hill.
"We've tried to think as evilly as we could," said Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., a drafter of the bill. We went through that awful exercise of trying to think like the most evil person on earth."
The bill, which authorizes the money over two years, gives the nation "a whole new arsenal," Tauzin said.
Senate leaders hope to take up the bill before adjourning Friday for a weeklong recess, but it was uncertain whether they would get to it.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the bill's Senate negotiator, said the legislation means "Americans will be able to sleep better at night in the knowledge that our nation is taking the steps necessary to protect them and their families against the deadly threat of bioterrorism."
States would get $1.6 billion in grants to prepare for a biological attack, using a formula included in the compromise. The House had wanted grant disbursement to be at the discretion of the health and human services secretary.
The compromise also would have drinking water systems assess their vulnerability to terrorist attack, develop emergency plans and submit the plans to the Environmental Protection Agency. House Republicans had argued that the agency lacks the capacity to handle such sensitive information, but the compromise would establish strict security controls to protect the information.
The bill also includes $300 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to upgrade its facilities.
The compromise also would renew a law that allows the Food and Drug Administration to charge fees to pharmaceutical companies to pay for speedier review of new medications. Negotiators also included $45 million to help speed the review of generic drugs and $27 million to help the FDA monitor pharmaceutical advertising aimed at consumers. Both amounts would be spent over five years.
The bill is H.R. 3448.