Congress cuts $3.46B from Bush's avian flu request

Highlights of 206 DOD Appopriations Bill

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Congress added $3.8 billion, $3.46 billion less than the Bush administration’s request, for avian flu preparedness to the $403.5 billion Defense Department Appropriations bill approved by a House-Senate conference committee yesterday in a rare Sunday session, as lawmakers raced to pass crucial spending legislation for fiscal 2006 before the holiday recess.

The conferees included $29 billion for disaster assistance to hurricane-damaged areas in the South, $10.4 billion more than the administration’s request, in the DOD bill, which passed the full House yesterday and is expected to receive Senate approval before Congress adjourns for the holidays.

The report emphasizes that funds provided for avian flu preparedness and hurricane disaster assistance do not represent any new net spending in the 2006 budget. These expenditures are offset by a 1 percent across-the-board reduction in 2006 discretionary spending by all agencies with the exception of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hurricane relief funds in the DOD bill also reflect the reallocation of $23.9 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency’s previously approved budget.

The final version of the DOD bill was $2.4 billion less than President Bush’s budget request, but the conferees also added $50 billion in emergency funds for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congress approved an $8 billion increase in procurement accounts for all four services to replace equipment damaged or destroyed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including radio systems, cruise missiles and trucks.

The bill provides $1.36 billion to test and equip units with new improvised explosive device (IED) jammers to the DOD IED Defeat Task Force and an additional $362.7 million to the Marine Corps for procurement of high-powered jammers used in Iraq.

The conference report cut funding by $400 million for a crucial DOD next-generation communications program, the transformational satellite project, designed to provide IP-based communications to warfighters through satellites equipped with space-hardened routers.

The avian flu-funding package added to the DOD bill provides $3.3 billion to the Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund to strengthen pandemic preparedness.

This budget category includes $350 million to upgrade state and local response capacity, particularly the planning and exercising of pandemic response plans by state and local officials; $241 million for international activities, disease surveillance, vaccine registries, research and clinical trials; and $50 million to increase laboratory capacity through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The conference report states that the Department of Health and Human Services can use the balance of the funds to support other core preparedness activities, such as expanding the domestic production capacity of influenza vaccine, developing and stockpiling of pandemic vaccine, stockpiling of antiviral medication and other supplies for the Strategic National Stockpile.

The hurricane disaster assistance package in the 2006 DOD bill provides $1.4 billion to rebuild damaged military facilities and $367 million to repair hurricane-battered VA facilities.

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