Senate slated to act soon on all-hazard preparedness, response legislation
The U.S. Senate is fast tracking bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the nation’s all-hazards preparedness and response law, according to the Alliance for Biosecurity.
U.S. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Bob Casey (D-PA) on May 8 sponsored S. 1379, which has been referred to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee for consideration.
The proposal is a companion bill to the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing (PAHPA) Innovation Act of 2019, H.R. 269, introduced by U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA) on Jan. 8 and approved the same day by the U.S. House of Representatives, 401-17.
“After months of hard work & fine-tuning led by the #CongressionalBiodefenseCaucus & others, PAHPA (which passed the House in January) is being fast tracked in the Senate!! Special thanks to Biodefense Caucus Chairs @SusanWBrooks & @RepAnnaEshoo and to @SenatorBurr & @SenBobCasey!” the alliance tweeted on May 10.
The Senate on Jan. 9 received H.R. 269 for consideration and on Jan. 10 placed it on the legislative calendar.
Since then, federal lawmakers have been working together behind the scenes to reconcile any differences ahead of a full Senate vote, sources say.
“We’re hopeful the Senate will act quickly on S.1379,” the Alliance for Biosecurity tweeted on Friday. “After Senate passage, the House will need to pass the bill (which includes a technical fix) and then it will go to the President to be signed into law! #PAHPA”
According to a 2018 nationwide survey published by the Alliance for BioSecurity, the majority of Americans support increased funding to address biosecurity threats and most U.S. voters also want their elected officials actively engaging to promote and support biosecurity.
“Nationally, 73% of the 1,612 Americans surveyed say they would have a favorable reaction if Congress decided to increase the budget this year for developing preventive measures for biological and chemical threats,” according to the alliance’s survey.
“What we’re seeing in these results is that people care greatly about health security threats and want their elected officials putting more resources into medical countermeasures,” said Brent MacGregor, co-chairman of the Alliance for Biosecurity. “Preparedness against naturally occurring and man-made biological threats is a very real part of our national security that Americans across a wide spectrum are willing to spend the necessary money to bolster.”
The survey also shows more than half of the American public currently does not feel confident that the federal government is prepared to address the next biosecurity threat, an opinion held by numerous high-ranking public health and government officials who have testified on Capitol Hill about the issue.
The alliance noted that only 31 percent of Americans surveyed said they are confident in America’s preparedness to respond to threats, compared to 50 percent confidence voiced during a March 2016 survey.
The Alliance for Biosecurity has publicly advocated for H.R. 269, which would authorize funding for the Project BioShield Special Reserve Fund and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
“However, we urge policymakers to account for inflation to ensure that future spending levels adequately support the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise (PHEMCE) Strategy and implementation Plan, the BARDA Strategic Plan, and related efforts,” the alliance wrote in a Jan. 8 letter sent to members of the House.
If enacted, H.R. 269 also would establish several programs within BARDA, including a Pandemic Influenza Program to support research and development activities toward bolstering responses to pandemic influenza, and an Emerging Infectious Disease Program to monitor, address and prevent infectious diseases.
Both programs would be funded at $250 million a year through fiscal year 2023, according to the bill, which also would establish market-based incentives designed to advance biomedical research and to ensure the sustainability of the medical countermeasures (MCMs) sector by transferring authority governing the procurement of MCMs from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR).
“The legislation would codify ASPR’s role in coordinating Strategic National Stockpile operations with CDC,” the alliance wrote. “We also believe that such teamwork would make the U.S. better equipped to tackle public health emergencies and natural disasters.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, the text of the newly introduced S. 1379 had not yet been published in the congressional record.