House Hopes to Enact 9/11 Commission Recommendations
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KWAME HOLMAN: House Democrats campaigned on the promise to pass the outstanding recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, arguing the last Republican-controlled Congress failed to implement critical provisions,leaving the nation vulnerable to attack.
Now in the majority, Democrats today moved to fulfill that promise, the beginning of their much-touted 100-hour legislative blitz.
REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), Texas: We are not now moving too quickly by finally enacting recommendations in 2007 that were issued in 2004 about a tragedy that occurred in 2001.
Just as with the deepening quagmire in the Iraq civil war and the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina debacle, this administration wastes precious time and squanders precious dollars.
Many of those, who by their neglect have earned failing grades from the independent 9/11 Commission, continue rejecting this long-overdue legislation to make our families safer here at home, while at the same time they urge us to engage in more misadventure abroad.
Republicans' input blocked
KWAME HOLMAN: But New York Republican Peter King criticized Democrats for blocking Republican participation, not even allowing Republicans to offer amendments to the 9/11 bill.
REP. PETER KING (R), New York: I'm disappointed today that such a piece of legislation, which attempts to deal with such a vital issue at such an all-encompassing way, is going to be done without any benefit at all of going through the committee, committee hearings, of getting testimony, of reaching out.
We, as Republicans, had no say whatsoever in this legislation. Again, I emphasize I can speak for the Homeland Security Committee, that never happened during the 15 months that I was the chairman.
KWAME HOLMAN: Still, House Republicans said they supported most of what the Democrats brought forward today, pointing out the House, under their watch, approved an almost identical bill only to watch it die in the Senate.
Bill proposes screening at ports
KWAME HOLMAN: The package before them would: screen 100 percent of all air and ship cargo coming into the U.S.; curb proliferation of materials that could be used to build nuclear weapons; increase funding for emergency communications; and distribute homeland security funds based on risk, not population size.
Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said inspecting more cargo abroad was critical.
REP. ED MARKEY (D), Massachusetts: There is an amendment in this bill which will ensure the screening of all ships, all cargo, overseas, before it departs for the United States, to determine whether or not there is, in fact, a nuclear bomb on that plane.
We know that that is al-Qaida's highest objective, to obtain a nuclear weapon from the former Soviet Union or from some other rogue state, to then transport it to a port somewhere around the world, put it on a ship, and then bring it to a port in the United States.
When it is in the port of New York or Boston or Long Beach, it's already too late. The bomb will be detonated by remote on the ship, causing the catastrophic event, not as the cargo was being taken on.
KWAME HOLMAN: But several Republicans took issue with the air security and sea cargo provisions in the bill. Alaska's Don Young said screening all containers awaiting shipment would be far too costly and could impede trade.
REP. DON YOUNG (R), Alaska: We're expending dollars in the billions in the airports, and it will be in the billions in the ports and the waterways of our nation. And the direct result will be -- and keep this in mind, Mr. and Mrs. America, a direct cost to you without any security. Every product, everything you pick up that's imported to the United States will add an additional cost. And it may make us noncompetitive.
Giving rights to airport screeners?
KWAME HOLMAN: Florida's John Mica attacked Democrats on another proposal, one that would give airport screeners whistleblower protections and the right to unionize, provisions not recommended by the 9/11 panel.
REP. JOHN MICA (R), Florida: Nowhere in this 9/11 Commission does it say that we should give collective bargaining rights to airport screeners, to TSA personnel. Nowhere. We had a bipartisan agreement when we created TSA that we wouldn't do that and put us at risk, that we needed to move people around, that we needed to fire people when we needed to do that.
KWAME HOLMAN: New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell said his party was forced to make its own additions to the recommendations, because Republicans had failed to act. He referred to the 9/11 Commission report.
REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), New Jersey: 9/11 public discourse project grades. Checked bag and cargo screening: D. And it says in the report, in the final report, "The improvements have not been made a priority by the Congress or the administration."
It's about time. And while the terrorists may know or they may not know, we have to do what we have to do.
Risk-based allocation of funds
KWAME HOLMAN: As the Democratic measure moved toward an approving vote this evening, the outlook for the 9/11 recommendations in the Senate was less certain.
But at least one major element of the House bill got a boost this morning from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Sitting alongside several 9/11 commissioners, Bloomberg told members of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that allocating homeland security money to those cities most at risk -- cities such as his -- was far overdue.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, Mayor of New York City: Time and time again, the federal government has tried to apply uniform solutions to localities like New York City which deserve more nuanced and individual attention.
What this country really needs is a federal policy-making process that recognizes New York City for what it truly is: one of the largest, most densely populated areas in the world; a powerful symbol of what our enemies deeply despise; and a city that already has been targeted many times.
This is our reality, and it's one that defies a mathematical formula, no matter how well-intended.
KWAME HOLMAN: But last year, Connecticut Democratic Joseph Lieberman helped kill the 9/11 bill, because he believed concentrating homeland security money on higher-risk cities disadvantaged smaller cities and towns.
This year, even as committee chairman, Lieberman might be persuaded to go along, especially if there's a marked increase in the overall amount of homeland security money to spread around.