The senator is optimistic a prescription drug benefit for Medicare can be enacted by the end of the year.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
HERMITAGE, Pa. -- The focus now is on preventing, rather than responding to terrorist attacks, U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter told a town meeting audience here.
"There is good reason to believe that, had we had all the information from intelligence in one spot, we might have prevented 9/11," Specter told the polite and friendly audience of about 100 Wednesday at the Hermitage Municipal Building.
"All of this has to come under one umbrella in homeland security," the GOP senator said, endorsing President Bush's plan to combine federal anti-terrorist efforts under a single Cabinet department of homeland security.
The senator spoke on the eve of Independence Day, a day on which authorities have called for heightened vigilance against potential terrorist attacks.
Many people fear that such attacks will hit not only big cities, but also small towns, he said. As part of the anti-terrorist effort, Specter noted that smallpox vaccine and Cipro for use against anthrax are being produced.
In conjunction with homeland security, Specter said immigration reform must be a high priority. "The problem of illegal immigration is an overwhelming one," and "The Immigration and Naturalization Service is way behind on computerization," he said.
The U.S. Border Patrol has been beefed up and some have called for installing a fence or posting troops along the Mexican border, he said.
On the domestic front, Specter said, Social Security is sound and he's confident it will continue to make payments to retirees.
He said he's optimistic a prescription drug benefit for Medicare can be enacted by the end of this year.
Earlier, U.S. Rep. Phil English of Erie, R-21st, a member of the House health subcommittee, told the gathering that he thinks the House is "willing to do whatever it takes to find a way of compromising with the Senate" on the prescription drug benefit.
He told a man who is on Social Security Disability and Medicare that the prescription drug benefit would apply for him as well as retirees on Medicare.
The bill passed the House early Friday just before Congress left for its July Fourth recess, but has yet to be taken up in the Senate.
Specter found himself giving short answers to about 30 questions from the audience on a wide variety of topics including food safety, corporate responsibility, welfare reform, child support enforcement, abortion, nuclear waste disposal, economic development, veterans benefits and federal judicial appointments.