WASHINGTON -- Six weeks after the anthrax-by-mail attacks, interest in preparing for bioterrorism remains intense on Capitol Hill. The Senate has proposed a $3 billion plan and the House is working on a bioterror package of its own.
The Bush administration supported the concept of the Senate plan, but balked at the cost.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Thursday he's set to move forward and hopes negotiations to buy some 250 million doses of smallpox vaccine will be finished by next week.
Meanwhile, the search for anthrax bacteria goes on.
A team was working Friday to decontaminate a postal distribution center in Raleigh, N.C., where a trace amount of anthrax was found on a shrink-wrapped pallet. The pallet had carried stamps from the Brentwood postal facility in Washington where two postal workers died.
Postal Service spokesman Bill Brown said the pallet had been in a vault at the Raleigh facility for about a month, meaning that anyone likely to be sickened by anthrax probably would have shown symptoms by now, and no one has.
In Boca Raton, Fla., where the anthrax attack first hit, testing found anthrax in more than 30 spots inside the American Media building. Health officials suggested there must have been more than one tainted letter sent to the tabloid publisher, although none has been found.
Members of the House Commerce Committee were working on a bioterror plan. It was unclear whether Democrats would join Republicans in sponsoring the bill, but there was widespread agreement on the problem.
Virtually every member of the panel wanted more attention and more money devoted to fighting bioterror. Many cited the crumbling facilities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the lack of training on the local level.
Across the Capitol, Sens. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., unveiled a $3.2 billion bioterrorism spending plan. The money would help stockpile vaccines and antibiotics, reinforce public health laboratories, increase food inspections and help state and local governments plan for bioterrorism.
Kennedy, who has proposed spending as much as $10 billion to counter bioterrorism, suggested he would be looking for more in the future; he called Thursday's plan a "down payment."
The Bush administration had proposed $1.5 billion as part of its larger $40 billion emergency measure. Asked about the Senate bill, Thompson repeated President Bush's pledge not to exceed his total price tag.
Thompson said he would "absolutely" support the bill, but only "if we can work out the dollars." He suggested that the spending might be spread over at least two years.
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