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JIM LEHRER: The debate in the U.S. Senate over new aviation security measures. Kwame Holman has that report.
SPOKESMAN: On this day of remembrance, we call upon Him for his strength and his power.
KWAME HOLMAN: The mood was solemn and bipartisan this afternoon, as members of the Senate held a month-after commemoration on the Capitol grounds for the victims of September 11. But when Senators moved back inside the Capitol, bipartisanship was in short supply on what to do about terrorism and its wake.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The time has come to move this package, Mr. President. We must not put these workers on hold yet again.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate debated the aviation security bill, which has broad support in the House and Senate. But Democrats argued the bill should include nearly $2 billion to assist an estimated 140,000 aviation industry workers laid off since the terrorist attacks. The Democrats’ point person was Jean Carnahan of Missouri.
SEN. JEAN CARNAHAN: For those workers, this legislation would provide three basic benefits. First it extends unemployment compensation for an additional 20 weeks after employees have exhausted their state benefits. This provides a safety net to help them make their mortgage payments, to feed their families for a few extra months while they are trying to get new jobs. And second, this legislation provides training assistance to workers who will not be able to return to their former jobs. And third, this legislation helps workers maintain health insurance for themselves and for their families.
KWAME HOLMAN: Most Republicans, however, favored the approach to helping aviation workers articulated by Senators Kyle and Enzi. Wyoming’s Mike Enzi promoted federal grants to states.
SEN. MIKE ENZI: States affected by the terrorist attacks will be able to receive national emergency grants. The state may, in turn, use these funds to help ensure that dislocated workers maintain health insurance coverage, that they receive income support during the recovery period and they return to the workforce through training and job search assistance. Decisions regarding worker assistance should be made by those closest to the problem, and therefore, closest to the solution.
KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona’s John Kyle suggested tax credits for travelers.
SEN. JON KYL: My guess is these people would rather… would be very happy just to get the old job back doing the same work they were doing before. And that’s why I think we have the focus here wrong. I have proposed, and I’m going to be urging my colleagues to very seriously consider as part of the economic stimulus package a tax credit to get people traveling again. The problem here is people aren’t traveling. If we had as much travel today, one month after this event, as we did on the day of September 11, all of the people that that we’re concerned about under this amendment would have their jobs.
KWAME HOLMAN: John McCain of Arizona said the aviation security legislation was not the vehicle to address the needs of unemployed air industry workers and opposed Senator Carnahan’s amendment.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I’m sympathetic to the needs of the displaced workers that she and so many of our colleagues want to address. And I believe– and I want to say to the Senator I believe that this issue has to be addressed.
KWAME HOLMAN: Democrats agreed to withdraw the Workers’ Assistance Amendment. Senators then continued to amend the aviation security bill. Its main provisions include: Increasing the number of federal air marshals to travel on commercial flights: Requiring the strengthening of cockpit doors, heightened security at airports overseen by the federal government; and the transfer of responsibility for passenger and baggage screening from airlines to the Department of Transportation. Late this afternoon, the Senate agreed to an amendment by Louisiana’s John Breaux to consider allowing commercial airline pilots to be armed with non-lethal weapons.
SEN. JOHN BREAUX: And I don’t want to make the decision today on the floor that one of these is the best. And that’s why this amendment simply says that we would require the Institute of Justice within the Department of Justice to assess the range of these weapons and, within 90 days– and it’s not going to take that long– within 90 days, to give a report to the Secretary of Transportation on their findings whether one’s good, one’s better one’s not so good or whether none of them are good, and make that recommendation to the Secretary.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate then went to a final vote on the aviation security bill and passed it unanimously.
SPOKESMAN: the ayes are 100, the nays are zero. The bill’s agreed to.