- The Washington Times - Friday, May 24, 2002

The Senate yesterday unanimously passed a bill authorizing $4.6 billion to enhance controls on dangerous biological material and prepare the country for a biological attack.

The House already passed the bill Wednesday, and the measure now heads to President Bush, who is expected to sign it.

"This bill will take away one of the most formidable weapons in the terrorist arsenal our own vulnerability," said Sen. Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, one of the chief champions of the bill.

The bill, which passed 98-0, would set aside $1.6 billion for grants to states to prepare for a biological attack, and would spend $1.1 billion to stockpile vaccines, including enough smallpox vaccine to protect every American.

It would enhance federal agencies' checks of people and labs that work with dangerous biological material, and it would pay for risk assessments of potential targets like local water supplies.

"Because of the initiatives we approve today, American families can go to sleep tonight knowing that their security will be enhanced," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and the bill's other chief sponsor.

Senate Democratic leaders yesterday also tried to begin debate on their $31 billion emergency military spending bill, but Republicans objected, arguing that the measure just came out of committee Wednesday and that the expedited process didn't allow enough scrutiny of the bill.

Meanwhile, the House remained deadlocked on its $29.4 billion version of the spending bill, with Democrats stalling floor action, arguing that Republicans are trying to duck a fair debate on increasing the government's debt limit.

The provision they oppose was added through a procedural move.

It would allow House and Senate negotiators later in the process to raise the government's debt ceiling by $750 billion, but the way the provision was added to the bill means the House never has to vote specifically on raising the ceiling.

Democrats say the need to borrow stems from last year's $1.3 trillion tax cut, and they say Republicans are hiding their vote on the debt ceiling to conceal the effects of the tax cut.

Republicans, though, said the provision is just a place holder for possible action later, and any eventual agreement between the House and Senate would require a final vote. They also chided Democrats for delaying a bill to fund the war on terrorism.

As of late yesterday, Republican leaders had sent a committee back to draw up new rules for debate that would expedite matters and limit the amount of opportunities for Democrats to delay the vote.

They expected final approval of the bill sometime early this morning.

About half of the bill's spending would go to defense lawmakers said the Army is already borrowing operational funds from the next fiscal quarter, and needs that money replenished. Another quarter of the funds would go to domestic security. The bill also makes the final installment on the president's promise to spend $20 billion rebuilding New York City.

Republicans say they have the votes to pass the bill, and many Democrats would feel obligated to vote for it or risk being seen as opposing funding for troops in the field.

Given that, Democrats resorted to delaying the bill, hoping rank-and-file Republicans, eager to get home for the Memorial Day recess, would force their leaders to come back with a different bill or different rules for debating the current version.

"If we cannot get that kind of agreement, we're willing to stay here all weekend," Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said to applause from his Democratic colleagues.

"I don't know about you, but I brought a change of clothes and several shirts."

But Republicans were adamant about getting the bill through as written.

"We are going to move this bill to completion," said committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican. "It may only pass by one vote, but it's going to pass."

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