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Iraq May Overshadow This Bill, But it Does Have its Own Issues

February 26, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate will be back in session at 2PM this afternoon to begin debate on S.4, a bill to implement the unfinished recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The thing that has people holding their breath as this debate begins is whether or not legislators will try to attach their competing Iraq resolutions to it as amendments. Doing so could potentially cause the whole bill, which has overwhelming majority support, to be scrapped. Articles outlining this possibility can be found all over the internet, for example on The Politico, The Detroit News, and the Chicago Sun-Times, but few are talking about the actual provisions of the bill that will undoubtedly be debated.

The bill, as it is written, differs from its House version in two main ways: it provides more security funding for high-risk urban areas and it drops the requirement that all cargo be subjected to security screenings. Both provisions will receive scrutiny in the senate debate.

Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which drafted the legislation, is worried about the measure in the bill to provide more risk-based funding. As it is drafted, the bill would reduce the minimum grant level for homeland security funds that a state could receive from 0.75 percent to 0.45 percent. The surplus funds would then be distributed to states based on their relative level of risk.

From a February 13, 2007 press release:

>“The proposed minimum state grant level is less than what it costs Maine to staff its fusion center, employ personnel who coordinate statewide training and exercises, and ensure that it effectively implements the National Incident Management System. (…) These are not arcane budget details. These are programs that provide Americans – whether they live in New York City, Connecticut suburbs, or Maine towns – with additional security. I fear that funding cuts of this magnitude would be a blow to our nation’s security.”

Collins will likely offer a floor amendment to raise the minimum grant level. Likewise, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will likely propose an amendment to reduce the minimum grant level even further, to 0.25 percent. Her measure is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators from states with large urban areas, such as New York, Illinois, and Texas. The debate over the minimum grant level will pit large states up against small states — always an interesting situation in the Senate, where states are represented equally, regardless of their size.

The other likely issue of contention with the bill is that it does not include a requirement that all cargo transported into or within the U.S. must undergo a security inspection, like the corresponding House bill does. These cargo inspections are opposed by President Bush and many Republican lawmakers. They argue that it would be too costly and require the use of technology that we do not have.

However, the Senate Commerce Committee recently approved a bill that would require similar inspections for cargo on airplanes. A spokesperson for Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and sponsor of the air cargo inspection bill, stated that “questions remain over whether current technology is adequate to accomplish this goal without unduly disrupting commerce and our economy.” It is likely that Inouye will bring up this question in an amendment to include the cargo inspection requirement in the bill.

The bill, like the House version, includes a measure to allow airport security screeners to unionize. The Administration and many Republicans are worried that if these workers are allowed to unionize, they will lose the flexibility that allows them change tactics quickly in response to terrorist threats. This issue will also likely come up in the Senate debate.

Senate Bill 4 is a major piece of legislation encompassing many contentious issues. All of these issues, and the possibility of the Iraq debate taking center, could cause consideration of this bill to last for several weeks. And, no matter how the bill looks when it is finalized, the differences that remain between it and the House version will have to be worked out before a final version can be sent to the President for approval.

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