Bill Seeks to Implement Sept. 11 Panel's Advice
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
The House today begins what's expected to be a rush of legislation. Democrats say they want to raise the minimum wage and lower prescription drug prices, among other things. The first piece of legislation the new Congress will consider is a bill that Democrats say enacts the remaining recommendations of the 9-11 Commission.
NPR's Pam Fessler covers homeland security and is here to talk about that bill. Good morning.
PAM FESSLER: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now haven't many of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations already been adopted? I mean, what's left to do here?
FESSLER: Well a lot of them have been adopted, most notably the reorganization of the nation's intelligence operations. But Democrats say that a lot more needs to be done, although I should point out that a lot of these recommendations were not very specific, so it's open to interpretation just how much has and hasn't been done. That said, the Democrats' bill does a number of things. It would, one, require the inspection of all cargo that goes on passenger aircraft. It also would require that all cargo containers that are headed for U.S. ports be inspected overseas for radiation and other dangerous materials. This is a very big step.
It also would change the formula used to distribute Homeland Security funds to states and local communities so that more of it would go to high-risk areas such as New York and L.A. It also makes a number of changes to improve emergency communications among first responders, more technology to screen explosives at airports. It also includes a number of measures to help keep nuclear materials out of the hands of terrorists. And it encourages something that the 9-11 Commission said was very important, and that is the use of public diplomacy to improve U.S. relations with the Arab world.
MONTAGNE: Still, the House Democrats are not doing everything the Commission recommended.
FESSLER: That's right. One of the main things the commission said is that Congress should reorganize itself so that it has better oversight over both intelligence and homeland security. Right now dozens of committees deal with these issues, so it's often very confusing and the power is very dispersed. But as you can imagine, it's very difficult to take power away from one committee in Congress and give it to another one, so this bill does very little on that front. It leaves unchanged how Congress deals with homeland security, although the House is going to make some change in intelligence. It's going to create a new panel that will give members of the Intelligence Committee more say in the drawing up of the intelligence budget.
MONTAGNE: And what are the chances these proposals will actually become law?
FESSLER: Well that's a big question. There is a lot of enthusiasm in the House among House Democrats for this bill, but not quite as much in the Senate. The Senate Homeland Security Committee today is beginning hearings on the 9-11 Commission recommendation and what still needs to be done, but it's not clear what the Senate's going to do after that, what legislation they will enact or even introduce.
There are a lot of things in the House bill that are likely to run into opposition in the Senate, and one of the big ones is the proposal for screening all the cargo, especially the overseas cargo. The shipping industry is very much opposed to that provision. They say it's very costly, they don't think it's going to be very effective, and they're very likely to mount a big fight against that in the Senate. Also, the House has tried several times before to change the formula used to distribute homeland security funds and it's always been blocked in the Senate, where you have members from smaller states that might lose some of the money opposing those provisions.
MONTAGNE: Of course, there's also the Republicans in the White House. Where do they stand on this?
FESSLER: They basically said they insist that they have already implemented or begun to implement almost all of the recommendations of the 9-11 Commission and that this is really just political grandstanding by the Democrats.
MONTAGNE: Pam, thanks very much.
FESSLER: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Pam Fessler.
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