House Passes Homeland Security Legislation

By William Branigin and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 27, 2007; 5:42 PM

The House gave final approval today to a Democratic bill that implements recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, mandating tighter screening of air and sea cargo and shifting more federal security money to high-risk areas such as New York and Washington, D.C.

The package, already approved by the Senate, passed the House by a vote of 371-40 and now goes to President Bush for his signature. It contains provisions that the White House has opposed, but Democrats agreed to modify some measures to win Republican approval and dropped one element that had triggered a presidential veto threat.

In a statement, the White House expressed reservations about the bill but said that its major concerns "have been addressed, and the president will sign the legislation."

The deal would authorize--but not fund--significant increases in homeland security grants, providing $4 billion over four years for transit security, $750 million a year for airport checkpoint and baggage screening technology and research and $1.8 billion next year for states and high-risk cities.

The bill implements a key recommendation of the Sept. 11 Commission by cutting in half the amount of homeland security grants provided to states regardless of the risk they face. Those guaranteed allocations are to be cut from about 40 percent of the total grants to about 20 percent.

It would require radiation screening within five years of 100 percent of U.S.-bound maritime cargo before it is loaded at foreign ports, but allows the secretary of homeland security to extend the deadline two years at a time. Likewise, it requires screening of all cargo carried on passenger aircraft within three years, but not physical inspection, as initially proposed. That change will limit the impact on carriers.

The legislation also would authorize about $1.6 billion in federal grants to ensure the interoperability of emergency radios for first responders at the federal, state and local levels.

Another provision would withhold U.S. assistance to Pakistan for fiscal 2008 until the president certifies that Pakistan is cracking down on the Taliban to end what Democrats call an "unacceptable" staging area for Muslim militants.

"With this bill we'll be keeping our promises to the families of 9/11, we'll be honoring the work of the 9/11 Commission, and we'll be making the American people safer," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a floor speech before the vote.

"This legislation alone cannot immunize our nation from attacks," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). "However, it does represent a very important step forward for our national security." Specifically, said Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), the bill "places priority on providing homeland security grants based on risk and not political preference."

Holding up a photo of the burning World Trade Center in New York, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-Tex.) said in a floor speech, "We lost lives on 9/11 because we were not prepared in terms of the intelligence community, in terms of the supporting law enforcement community. Today we are prepared."

But Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) argued that the bill represents "a hollow campaign promise" that fails to address a key recommendation of the Sept. 11 Commission: streamlining congressional oversight of homeland security to reduce redundant involvement by a number of different committees. Democrats, he charged, "once again are ignoring this important issue entirely."

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