Congress Hits Compromise on Bioterror Bill

House and Senate negotiators have reached agreement on a bioterrorism bill that would spend billions of dollars to stockpile vaccines and help states prepare for a biological disaster.

The bill, which is expected to come before the full House Wednesday, would also hire more border inspectors to protect food supplies and better regulate laboratories that work with deadly agents.

"Because of this bipartisan legislation, 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," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.

Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., said, "In a post-Sept. 11 world, it is essential that Congress strengthen our public health infrastructure at the national, state and local levels to better protect the American people."

Kennedy and Tauzin have been the lead negotiators of the deal.

Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician who has taken a lead role in bioterrorism preparation, called the measure a "strong bill" and said it was critical that Congress "renew our local, state and national public health systems to work in a more coordinated way."

The total dollar amount of the bill has yet to be determined, but earlier estimates were around $3 billion.

States would get $1.5 billion in grants to prepare for a biological attack, using a formula included in the compromise. The House had wanted grant dispersal to be at the discretion of the Health and Human Services Secretary.

The compromise also calls for drinking water systems to assess their vulnerability to terrorist attack, develop emergency plans and submit those plans to the Environmental Protection Agency. House Republicans had argued that the agency did not have the capacity to handle such sensitive information, but the compromise includes 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 would also include language to 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 House bill is H.R. 3448. The Senate bill is S. 1715.