WASHINGTON - Congress sent President Bush legislation
Friday to intensify anti-terror efforts in the U.S., shifting money to high-risk
states and cities and expanding screening of air and sea cargo to stave off
future Sept. 11-style attacks.
The measure carries out major
recommendations of the independent 9/11 Commission.
The bill, passed by the House on a
371-40 vote, ranks among the top accomplishments of the six-month-old Democratic
Congress. The Senate approved the measure late Thursday by 85-8, and the White House
said the president would sign the
Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks
and three years after the 9/11 Commission made its recommendations, “Congress is
finally embracing what the 9/11 families have been saying all along,” said
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “It takes a
willingness to do things a different way.”
The bill elevates the importance of
risk factors in determining which states and cities get federal security funds —
that would mean more money for such cities as New York and Washington — and also
puts money into a new program to assure that security officials at every level
can communicate with each other.
It would require screening of all
cargo on passenger planes within three years and sets a five-year goal of
scanning all container ships for nuclear devices before they leave foreign
Senate Homeland Security and
Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who steered the
legislation through the Senate with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it would
“make our nation stronger, our cities and towns more secure and our families
Republicans generally backed the bill
while stressing their own administration’s success in stopping another major
terrorist attack. The bill, said Rep. Peter King of New York, top Republican on
the Homeland Security panel, “is another step in the right direction building on
the steps of the previous 5˝ years.”
“These efforts build upon the
considerable progress we’ve made over the past six years,” said White House spokesman
Completion of the bill, six months
after the House passed its original version on the first day of the current
Congress, was a major victory for Democrats who have seen some of their other
priorities — immigration and energy reform and stem cell research
funding — thwarted by GOP and
presidential resistance and House-Senate differences.
Another goal, raising the minimum
wage, went into effect last Tuesday, and Democratic leaders still hope for
agreement on ethics and lobbying changes before Congress departs for its August
recess at the end of next week.
The independent 9/11 Commission in
2004 issued 41 recommendations covering domestic security, intelligence
gathering and foreign policy. Congress and the White House followed through on
some, including creating a director of national intelligence, tightening land
border screening and cracking down on terrorist financing.
Democrats, after taking over control
of Congress, promised to make completing the list a top priority.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the
vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, said with enactment of the bill some 80
percent of the panel’s recommendations will have been met. “The bottom line is
that the American people will be safer,” he said.
The 9/11 bill led off the first busy
legislative week in the House last January, and the Senate passed its version in
March. The measure stalled after that, partly because of a White House veto
threat over language, since dropped, to give collective bargaining rights to
House-Senate negotiators finally
reached an agreement this week after Democrats worked out a provision satisfying
GOP demands that people who report what they in good faith believe to be
terrorist activity around planes, trains and buses be protected from
The most controversial provision in
the legislation requires the radiation scanning of cargo containers in more than
600 ports from which ships leave for the U.S. The White House
, and other critics, say that the
technology isn’t there, that the requirement could disrupt trade and that
current procedures including manifest inspections at foreign ports and radiation
monitoring in U.S. ports are working well.
Supporters argue that the unthinkable
devastation from the detonation of a nuclear device in an American port makes it
imperative to scan cargo before it reaches U.S. shores. As a compromise, it was
agreed that the Homeland Security
secretary can extend the five-year
deadline for 100 percent scanning in two-year increments if necessary.
The White House was also unhappy with
a provision that requires total amounts requested and appropriated for the
intelligence community to be made public.
not part of bill
There was more agreement on changing
the formula to ensure that more federal security grants go to high-risk states
and cities. The current formula makes sure that every lawmaker, even those
representing rural areas relatively safe from terrorism, get a chunk of the
federal grants. Under the new formula a larger percentage of grants will go to
high-risk urban areas.
The bill also establishes a new grant
program to ensure that local, state and federal officials can communicate with
each other and approves $4 billion over four years for rail, transit and bus
It strengthens security measures for
the Visa Waiver Program, which allows travelers from select countries to visit
the United States without visas.
The massive legislation also contains
language requiring the president to confirm that Pakistan is making progress in
and Taliban elements within its borders before
the United States provides aid to the country.
Hamilton said that one shortcoming of
the bill is that it fails to carry out the commission’s recommendation that
Congress streamline its own overlapping setup for monitoring intelligence and
homeland security matters. “I think congressional oversight still remains a
weakness in our homeland security,” he