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Security Without Giveaways

November 19, 2002

The homeland security bill was supposed to protect the United States from terrorism, but Republican Santas have turned it into a magic sleigh brimming with early Christmas gifts for favored special interests.

It's a good thing outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) are willing to play Scrooge and hold up the lame-duck congressional session to protest all the favors that Republican lawmakers smuggled into the bill. When they vote -- as they probably will today -- lawmakers should support their effort to strike out the most dangerous or transparently porkish provisions.

These include an amendment that would permit a Homeland Security Department to contract with companies that have incorporated offshore to avoid paying U.S. taxes. And, cramming in a present that sticks out like a singing telegram, Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) would guarantee that taxpayers fork over money for a security research center based at Texas A&M University.

It makes sense for the bill to encourage manufacturers to produce vaccines. As it now stands, however, its provisions increase protections for business but reduce them for the public. The bill contains a special provision that would benefit Eli Lilly and other manufacturers being sued in state courts for producing a vaccine preservative that allegedly injured children who received measles-mumps-rubella vaccinations. Daschle opposes this but unfortunately would leave untouched a shield protecting smallpox vaccine manufacturers and health-care facilities from liability for injuries that result from the vaccine. Its greatest fault is that it does not create any new mechanism of compensation for potential victims.

Most troubling is the bill's contempt for the public's right to open government, as reflected in its restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act and in its proposal to exempt the proposed department's advisory committees from the open-meetings requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Some meetings of an anti-terrorist agency would need a special measure of secrecy, but the bill is far too sweeping.

GOP members may have miscalculated that Democrats, who saw their party suffer midterm electoral hits for stalling homeland security legislation over an issue of union rights, would tiptoe away from Republicans' amendments. Instead, the Democrats are showing some political spine.

We encourage Republican swing voters in the Senate, including John McCain (Ariz.) and Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), to do the same. They need to close their eyes, remember the scenes from September 2001 that made all this important in the first place and vote to dump their colleagues' spurious amendments. Homeland security should produce a good bill, not a bunch of goodies.

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