Bill Boosting Defenses

Against Terror Signed

Pledging to rally U.S. science and technology against "the greatest danger of our time," President Bush yesterday signed into law a $5.6 billion bill aimed at bolstering the nation's defenses against biological, chemical and nuclear terrorism.

The legislation enables the government to buy and stockpile vaccines, expedite research on medicines to combat bioterrorism and, in a crisis, distribute new drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The bill took 18 months to reach his desk despite broad support in Congress.

The House overwhelmingly approved the plan, but it bogged down in the Senate over various provisions, including expedited federal contracting procedures and disclosure guidelines for vaccinating military personnel. It passed the Senate 99 to 0 in May.

Court Asked to Clarify

Sentencing Guidelines

The Bush administration appealed to the Supreme Court to rule quickly on the constitutionality of federal sentencing rules, which the court placed in doubt last month by striking down a state sentencing program.

The administration's top Supreme Court lawyer filed two rush appeals involving federal drug cases, and asked the justices to hear the cases as soon as September. The court, which is on its summer hiatus, gave lawyers for the drug defendants a week to respond.

The appeals had been expected since the court ruled in June that juries, not judges, must consider any factor that could lengthen a defendant's sentence beyond the maximum set out in state sentencing guidelines.

House Bill Authorizes

Coast Guard Growth

The House approved a Coast Guard spending bill that would significantly increase personnel and give officers authority to carry firearms and make arrests for violations of maritime security rules.

The legislation would raise active-duty numbers to 45,500 from the current 37,000.

The bill approves spending $8.2 billion in the budget year beginning Oct. 1 for Coast Guard activities, which include search and rescue, national defense, interdiction of contraband and protecting the nation's 95,000 miles of coastline.

FEC Crackdown Urged

On GOP Group's Funds

Three campaign watchdog groups -- Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center and the Center for Responsive Politics -- complained to the Federal Election Commission that the pro-Republican group Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA) has illegally used large "soft money" contributions to influence the election.

PFA, according to the complaint, should be allowed only to spend contributions of $5,000 or less, according to election law. PFA has accepted a contribution of $1 million, and two of $500,000.

PFA President Brian McCabe countered: "We are in full compliance with federal election law and despite these specious and transparent legal maneuvers by the left, we have every intention of remaining fully active and engaged in the issues debate."

-- From News Services and Staff Reports