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The Nation

House votes to enact more 9/11 panel points

A domestic security bill toughens cargo searches and implements other recommendations, but funding is uncertain.

January 10, 2007|Nicole Gaouette | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The House passed a broad domestic security bill Tuesday that requires all cargo on U.S.-bound ships and 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 Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

It passed 299-128, with 68 Republicans joining Democrats.

While it could bolster the Democratic Party's national security credentials, it could also fall short of its aims. Democrats did not designate funding for most of the costly initiatives, and critics also charge that some of them 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 terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. 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.), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. Criticizing Republican inaction on some of the Sept. 11 commission recommendations, Thompson cited an Irish proverb.

"You have never plowed a field, if you've only turned it over in your mind," he said. "It's been five years since 9/11, three years since the 9/11 recommendations. Now it's time to plow the field."

About half of 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 its reforms.

The House also passed a resolution to create a 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-San Dimas), who led the Republican side of the debate with several feisty denunciations of the Democrats' decision not to hold hearings.

The intelligence panel resolution, which passed 239 to 188, with the support of just eight Republicans, does not follow the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation to combine the committee that authorizes intelligence spending with the one that appropriates the funds. But Pelosi said the creation of the new panel was a step in that direction.

"We have to show that this panel that we're putting together can do the job," Pelosi said. "To the extent that we can reduce the number of auspices under which the intelligence community has to come to Congress, we have to move in that direction."

Pelosi glossed over the issue of funding the programs authorized in the domestic security bill when she discussed it. The bill contains only one authorization -- for an airport checkpoint screening fund that will get $250 million in 2008.

"I would have probably wanted to put some money there," Thompson said, "but in the spirit of let's get it done, we'll work it out." The bill, H.R. 1, is the first in a series that Democrats plan to pass in their 100-hour agenda before the president's State of the Union speech later this month. Today, they will take up a bill to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour.

As lawmakers debated the domestic security measure, the administration issued a statement declaring it "cannot support ... the bill in its current form."

While the White House lauded a proposal to make risk a greater part of the criteria for allocating about $2 billion for state and local domestic security grants, it objected to the creation of a new grant program for local law enforcement to participate in border-state centers that would concentrate federal, state and local intelligence gathering.

The administration opposed a measure that would greatly empower a civil liberties oversight board that has been criticized as ineffectual. The panel was established two years ago under White House control as a check on executive power in the war on terrorism. The legislation would create a new independent agency with the power to subpoena testimony and documents.

And the administration argued against a section recommending that the U.S. develop with allies a common approach toward detainees and suspected terrorists, dismissing it as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

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