Wednesday, January 10, 2007
WASHINGTON — The House passed a broad homeland-security bill Tuesday that requires all cargo on U.S.-bound ships and on passenger planes to be scanned for explosives, expands programs to track weapons of mass destruction and bolsters intelligence gathering along the border.
The bill, which implements many of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, is the first in the 100-hour legislative drive spearheaded by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
It passed 299-128, with 68 Republicans joining Democrats. All members of the Washington state delegation voted for the bill.
While it could bolster the Democratic Party's national-security credentials, it also could fall short of its aims. Democrats did not designate funding for most of the costly initiatives, and critics also charge that some are impractical.
Industry groups and the Bush administration objected to the requirement that, within three years, all shipping cargo arriving in the U.S. from major overseas ports be scanned. Republicans complained about the lack of hearings on the 279-page bill, and Democratic allies in the Senate questioned whether it is too ambitious.
House Democrats defended the legislation, which is based on and sometimes exceeds suggestions by the bipartisan panel that examined the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. That report was issued in July 2004.
"Don't be fooled by those who say this bill moves too quickly," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
About half the recommendations were enacted under the Republican-controlled Congress, but the commission has given Congress and the administration a slew of failing grades for its performance on implementing their reforms.
The House also passed a resolution to create a new panel to monitor intelligence spending, which Republicans criticized as adding unnecessary bureaucracy without improving oversight.
"While the 9/11 commission recommended one committee, we will have three committees. As far as I can tell, their only job will be to write a report and give it to themselves," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.
The intelligence-panel resolution, which passed 239-188, with the support of just eight Republicans, does not follow the 9/11 commission's recommendation to combine the committee that authorizes intelligence spending with the one that appropriates the money. But Pelosi said the creation of the new panel was a step in that direction.
Pelosi glossed over the issue of funding the programs authorized in the homeland-security bill. The bill contains only one authorization: for an airport checkpoint screening fund that will get $250 million in 2008.
In a written statement, the Bush administration said it could not support the measure as drafted, but stopped short of a veto threat.
One controversial measure would require screening all shipping containers coming from foreign ports within five years, with larger ports obliged to meet that deadline in three years. American inspectors would scan and seal every container loaded onto U.S.-bound ships, then provide the Homeland Security Department with copies of the scans.
Republicans debated instituting overseas scanning of all cargo under the 2006 SAFE Port Act but decided to conduct pilot projects first, an approach that industry groups support.