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US Congress To Take Up 9/11 Panel Recommendation Bill January 9, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–Democrats were trying to push a bill through the House of Representatives Tuesday enacting most of the remaining recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including the screening of all cargo containers shipped to the U.S.

Democrats were turning to national security for their first legislation in the new Congress as part of a first 100 hours of action promised by Nancy Pelosi, the new House speaker, when her party took control of Capitol Hill.

House leaders were eager to contrast their quick action on the issue with the previous, Republican-run Congress’ failure to approve some of the 41 recommendations of the commission.

The 9/11 Commission made its proposals three years ago in an effort to prevent a repeat of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“Democrats will be – and hopefully we’ll be doing this in a bipartisan way – putting the protection of the American people very high on our priority list,” Pelosi told reporters on Monday.

The bill’s fate was less clear in the Senate, which was only beginning hearings on Tuesday. Because of questions about the costs and impact of some provisions – such as cargo inspections that might tie up U.S. ports – it is uncertain how much of the bill is likely to become law.

The House measure would also require screening of all air cargo, distribute more federal aid to states based on risk instead of population, and provide money to improve emergency agencies’ communications gear. It includes steps aimed at preventing nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists.

Though many Republicans were expected to support the measure, some objected to provisions of the bill and the speed with which Democratic leaders planned to whip it through the House, bypassing hearings.

“To make it part of a 100-hour show shamefully trivializes an issue of life or death,” said Congressman Peter King of New York, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee.

Democrats declined to cite the bill’s total price tag. Funding for the bill would come in separate spending legislation.

The House also planned to vote on a separate measure creating a new House committee that would closely monitor the budget and actions of the U.S. intelligence community. Congressional jurisdiction over intelligence is currently spread among several committees.

The bill moves toward the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation to centralize congressional oversight in either a joint House-Senate panel or one committee in each chamber.

Many of the commission’s recommendations have already been enacted, including some changes in the organization of intelligence institutions, in air security systems and in strategies for disrupting terrorist financing.

Other recommendations were not acted upon because of costs and political differences. Among them was one that would give airport screeners the right to join unions and provide them with whistle-blower protections.

The provision in the Democrats’ bill that would require scanning of all containers aboard ships bound for the U.S. has drawn some concern.

Customs and Border inspectors screen all containers by examining paperwork, including manifests, but pull out for physical inspection only those containers they consider to be high-risk – currently fewer than one in 10.

Some argue that not only is there not sufficient technology to scan all containers, but if it were done rigorously, all commerce could be shut down, costing jobs and potentially billions of dollars. A pilot program the Homeland Security Department has been running in just six ports has cost $60 million for one year alone.

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