House bill seeks to remove $2 billion in bioterror funding

A recently passed house appropriations bill seeks to take $2 billion dollars away from funds intended to fight bioterrorism and outbreaks of pandemic disease.

Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin, added $10 billion dollars to the bill in an effort to avoid teacher layoffs and, according to budget rules, cuts had to be made. Bioterrorism experts are aghast at the cuts and upset that the Obama administration has done nothing to stop it.

"I don't think anybody who understands the urgency of bio-preparedness is happy with where we are right now," Jeff Runge, chief medical officer at the Department of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2008, said, The Bellingham Herald reports.

The secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services is required to cut $2 billion dollars in funds used to buy drugs for a bioterror attack or pandemic disease under the proposed appropriations bill, and Project Bioshield is in danger of being eviscerated by the reduction. Bioshield is, predominantly, a fund set aside to guarantee payment to drug and vaccine makers in the event of a crisis. It was conceived in 2004 with $5.6 billon to be spent over the span of 10 years. So far, $2 billon has been used.

“If terrorists attacked a city with anthrax or some other biological agent today, I think there would be tens if not hundreds of thousands of people unnecessarily killed," Robert Graham, a former democractic Senator and co-chair on federal panels on the Gulf oil spill and the financial crisis, told The Bellingham Herald. "We know what to do to reduce the impact of a biological attack, but thus far we have been unwilling to implement those steps."

Graham, who was appointed by President Obama, said he would seek to convince the White House to release the funds. Graham, who gave the federal government an “F” for its bioterror readiness in January 2010, said he has seen little improvement since.

Robert Kadlec, President George W. Bush’s bioterrorism adviser, said that the U.S. is already unprepared and ill-equipped to distribute drugs in the case of the release of a deadly pathogen.