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"House Passes Security Bill; Senate Stance Is Uncertain"



Wednesday, January 10, 2007

House Passes Security Bill; Senate Stance Is Uncertain 
By ERIC LIPTON
The New York (NY) Times


WASHINGTON, - Delivering on a major campaign promise, House Democrats used
their new majority Tuesday to push through a bill that would write into law
several remaining recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. 

The measure includes more than a dozen initiatives like tightening cargo
security and distributing antiterrorism grants based more on risk rather
than on a political formula.

The vote put Republicans in a difficult spot. They opposed major elements of
the bill, saying they went beyond panel recommendations and would be
prohibitively expensive without significantly aiding security.

But after failing to delay action on the bill, many Republicans felt they
had no choice but to vote in favor of it - and 68 did. The measure passed
299 to 128. 

House Democrats said the rapid vote reflected their commitment to
eliminating important vulnerabilities that remain in the nation's
antiterrorism programs.

"Our first and highest responsibility as members of this Congress is to
protect the American people, defend our homeland and strengthen national
security," said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the
House majority leader.

The effort faces an uncertain future in the Senate, as some Democrats have
expressed concerns that the bill's mandate on inspecting ship containers may
be unreasonable. The bill says that before any United States-bound ship
container leaves an overseas port, it must be checked for radioactive
material that could be used to build weapons.

The Bush administration also opposes major parts of the bill.

The legislation includes no formal estimate of its cost, but it clearly
would be in the billions of dollars.

One of its most far-reaching provisions would require that all air cargo on
passenger jets be inspected for explosives; now only high-risk shipments are
inspected.

The bill also calls for the United States to develop, with other nations, an
agreement on how to handle detainees of the Iraq war or counterterrorism
efforts, and for creation of a new federal coordinator of efforts to prevent
the spread of unconventional weapons.

And it would require that Transportation Security Administration workers be
subject to the same labor rules as other federal workers, perhaps allowing
them to unionize.

Republicans said that 39 of the commission's 41 recommendations had already
been adopted - a claim Democrats do not accept. They also said that many of
the bill's provisions did not reflect changes explicitly called for by the
panel.

"I hope the 9/11 families do not give you a pass on this," said
Representative Phil Gingrey, Republican of Georgia, who called the bill an
overtly political measure.

But the Democrats called each section essential. "Hurricanes Katrina and
Rita reminded us all again how unprepared we all are to deal with
catastrophe whether caused by nature or terrorist attack," said
Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey. 

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who held a hearing
Tuesday as the Senate prepared for its version of this bill, noted that one
major recommendation - not in the House measure - was strengthening
Congressional oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. "We
found it a lot easier to reform the rest of the government than we did to
reform ourselves post-9/11," Mr. Lieberman said. "That's unfinished work."

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