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Last Updated

07 Dec 2002

Source: Associated Press, June 12, 2002.

Bush Signs $4.6B Bioterror Bill

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush signed bioterrorism legislation Wednesday that devotes $4.6 billion to stockpiling vaccines, improving food inspections and boosting security for water systems, calling it his "urgent duty" to prevent germ warfare.

In a Rose Garden ceremony with the bill's sponsors, Bush said last fall's anthrax attacks were a wake-up call for the federal government. "We must be better prepared to prevent, identify and respond" to bioterrorism threats, he said.

The measure, passed overwhelming by Congress, became law as Bush pressed lawmakers to create a new Homeland Security Department.

Despite grumbling from Congress, Bush said his proposal is the best way "to make sure that we have an effective response to the enemy that still wants to hit America. This bill ... is part of the process of doing our duty to protect innocent Americans from an enemy who hates America."

Tom Ridge, the White House director of domestic security, was to brief the entire House membership later Wednesday on the proposal and follow up with senators Thursday. The closed-door sessions are intended to answer a growing number of questions about issues such as sharing of intelligence and the projected costs of transition.

Congress has been working on the bioterrorism bill since September's attacks on New York and Washington and accelerated the process after suffering a bioterrorism attack.

Mail service to Capitol Hill was stopped for six weeks after anthrax-contaminated letters were discovered in October. Five people, including two postal workers, died from anthrax. New scares have occurred recently at the Federal Reserve and World Bank. Nobody has been arrested in the case, though investigators suspect the terrorist is from the United States.

"Terrorist groups seek biological weapons. We know some rogue states already have them. It is important that we confront these real threats to our country and prepare for future emergencies," Bush said. "Protecting our citizens again bioterrorism is an urgent duty of America."

The bioterrorism bill would spend $640 million to produce and stockpile smallpox vaccines for vast numbers of Americans should terrorists reintroduce the eradicated disease. The measure also would expand availability of potassium iodide for communities near nuclear plants to treat radiation poisoning in case of terrorist attack.

The bill also would pump more money into the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile, secret stashes of medicine at locations throughout the United States.

It would provide $1.6 billion in grants to states for hospital preparedness and assessments of the vulnerability of local water systems.

On his proposal for a new federal agency, most lawmakers were lining up to back Bush's call for swift action. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., even suggested the Senate may be able to pass its version of the plan before the August congressional recess.

"We have a lot of questions to ask about how it works and whether or not the proposal from the White House, when it comes, is the right approach," Daschle said. "But we'll work with them to see if we can find the right approach and reach a consensus on it."

Yet even some prominent members of Bush's own party were raising questions about the plan. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said many lawmakers are concerned that the president's plan does not envision the "full participation" of the FBI  and CIA, which have been the subjects of heavy criticism for their pre-Sept. 11 intelligence performance.

Under Bush's plan, intelligence would be analyzed by the new department, which would have no authority over what the agencies produced.

"Many of us feel we can maybe, perhaps, more completely do that job than what was outlined" by the president, Armey said. "We may have to pull these agencies more fully into the structure than was recommended."

Appearing Tuesday on CNN, Ridge said he was confident lawmakers' concerns about intelligence sharing with the new department could be worked out.