- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

While terrorists may be pouring over manuals in an effort to stage a biological attack on America that could make September 11 pale by comparison, Congress has failed to muster enough votes to pass Project Bioshield, which would provide a measure of prevention against that eventuality. Project Bioshield would authorize about $6 billion in spending for the development and procurement of treatments against potential biological agents. Private companies are currently unwilling to invest in therapies for which there might not be buyers in the absence of a bioterrorism incident. Project Bioshield would change that by guaranteeing them the sure government procurement market for successfully developed countermeasures, such as cures for smallpox or therapies against plague.

The House passed its version of Project Bioshield, H.R. 2122, by a 421-2 vote in July. While the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee passed a version of the measure in March, it has made little headway since then. Sen. Robert Byrd has been the primary reason for the delay, repeatedly blocking the measure over concerns over its mandatory funding mechanism. To alleviate those concerns, the committee chairman, Sen. Judd Gregg, along with Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced a replacement bill, S. 1504, just before the August recess. The funding measures established in the original version of the bill are still there, but the mechanism is slightly different — instead of being mandatory, the measures are discretionary. But they are only subject to change by a supermajority of 60 senators.

The House version of the bill sets up a reserve fund from which the executive branch could draw dollars. Congress would still retain some control of the money, since it would be designated as discretionary spending. In July, President Bush acquiesced to H.R. 2122’s funding mechanism, and Mr. Byrd continues to insist on that mechanism.

The delay must end. Project Bioshield could well have a deterrent effect, because terrorists may come to understand that it is futile to target America with biological weapons for which there are known treatments. The measure is also likely to have the added benefit of encouraging development of better treatments for infectious diseases that are currently ravaging developing countries. Surely, Messrs. Gregg and Kennedy can find 58 more senators to vote for the protection offered by Project Bioshield.



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