The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved a bill aimed at strengthening the nation's readiness for new biological terror attacks. The legislation is a response to last year's mail-borne anthrax attacks after September 11.
The bill provides about $4.5 billion over two years to help the federal government, as well as state and local governments, prepare for and respond to bioterror attacks.
Included are provisions to improve the protection of public water supplies, and the country's food supply.
Under the legislation, individual states would be eligible for $1.5 billion to prepare for biological attacks by training health personnel and developing new drugs.
More than $600 million would go to expanding national stockpiles of antibiotics to treat anthrax. Another $500,000 is for purchasing additional smallpox vaccines.
Congressman Bill Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana, said the bill was a direct response by Congress to the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the events that followed.
"[This] has produced a huge bipartisan response to the enemies of our country who think they can threaten us with biological agents, or threaten us with attacks upon our food or water supplies, and make this country more and more vulnerable," he said.
Under the legislation, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would get about $300 million to improve the nation's ability to respond to bioterror.
California Democratic congresswoman Jane Harman said the possibility of new terrorist attacks, including bioterror, makes the bill's passage more significant.
"We already know that rogue states like Iraq have attempted to acquire biological agents, and we have yet to discover and prosecute the individual or group responsible for the anthrax attacks that killed five people in October and November," she said. "Our government's response to the bioterrorist attacks was deeply flawed. We have talented people, but we have been lacking the resources and coordination to make our response effective. We must act now to improve our terrorism response before another tragedy occurs."
The bill was approved by a vote of 425 to 1 after Congressional negotiators resolved differences between House and Senate versions in what is called a conference committee.
The Senate is expected to vote on its version of the bioterror bill before the end of the week when Congress begins a week-long recess. The bill would then go to President Bush for signature.