WASHINGTON -- The Senate, itself the target of an anthrax attack last year, sent President Bush a broad bioterrorism bill on Thursday devoting $4.6 billion to stockpiling vaccines, improving food inspections and boosting security for water systems.
"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, D-Mass., one of the bill's chief authors.
The Senate approved the bill on a 98-0 vote after the House passed it Wednesday. Bush is expected to sign it when he returns from a trip to Europe.
The bill would spend $640 million to produce and stockpile smallpox vaccines for vast numbers of Americans in the event the eradicated disease is reintroduced by terrorists. The measure also expands the availability of potassium iodide for communities near nuclear plants to treat radiation poisoning in case of terrorist attack.
The bill also will pump more money into the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile -- secret stashes of medicine at locations throughout the United States.
A separate House bill aiming $29 billion at the fight against terrorism bogged down Thursday in an election-year dispute over the rising national debt. House members planned to work through the night to try to resurrect the bill before the Memorial Day recess.
Ultimate passage of that bill was still a virtual certainty. Both parties strongly support its spending for the Pentagon, intelligence, airport security, aid to U.S. allies and New York's recovery from the Sept. 11 attacks.
The House on Wednesday also authorized $5 billion to help the U.S. Customs Service buy special equipment to fight terrorism at the borders.
Congress has been working on the bioterrorism bill since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and accelerated the process after suffering a bioterrorism attack of its own.
"We saw, of course, the devastating impact of a biological incident with the anthrax incident," said Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H. Mail service to Capitol Hill was stopped for six weeks after an anthrax-contaminated letter was discovered last October in an office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. A second anthrax letter was discovered later addressed to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Anthrax-contaminated mail at post offices and elsewhere killed five people and sickened an additional 13 last year. And recent scares have occurred at the Federal Reserve and World Bank. The FBI is investigating but has not yet determined the source of the tainted letters.