Democrats push Sept. 11 proposals

WASHINGTON – House Democrats unveiled legislation Monday aimed at implementing many of the remaining reforms suggested by the Sept. 11 commission, including calls for more thorough cargo screening, better emergency communications and more money for cities at the highest risk of terrorist attack.

Democratic leaders plan to push through votes this week on a long list of Sept. 11-related reforms that were considered but rejected by the previous Republican-controlled Congress. The proposals signal an early willingness on the part of House Democrats to put pressure on their colleagues in the Senate, where lawmakers from both parties are cooler to some of the ideas and where no similar package of legislation has been proposed.

Democrats say the House proposals would implement nearly all the remaining reforms recommended in 2004 by the bipartisan commission on the 2001 attacks, ranging from ways to beef up funding and training for first responders to calls to rewrite many U.S. policies toward controlling weapons of mass destruction and nuclear proliferation.

Lee Hamilton, the former Indiana Democratic congressman who served as vice chairman of the commission, estimated that the previous Congress had enacted about half the commission’s recommendations, including creating a director to oversee the federal government’s intelligence agencies. He said the “American people will be safer” if the remaining proposals make it into law.

“It carries out the recommendations that we have made,” Hamilton said at a news conference Monday with House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats. “And if this bill is enacted, then almost all of the recommendations of the commission will have been put into law.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the reforms would, among other things, result in “100 percent” screening of air cargo, baggage and major ports cargo within four years.

The legislation calls for establishment of a new presidential office to coordinate prevention of weapons of mass destruction proliferation and terrorism. Supporters of the measure described it as necessary to direct activities and budgets on an issue that is now spread among numerous departments and agencies. The bill also would create an outside commission to monitor government nonproliferation initiatives.

The Sept. 11 commission gave the administration a grade of D in following up on its general recommendations to strengthen efforts to prevent the development and spread of WMD. The Democratic legislation proposes a wide range of initiatives to expand the scope of international cooperation and sanctions for those countries that fail to cooperate.

Noting that the commission called for a significant expansion of resources for international broadcasting and promotion of democracy, the bill calls for a “surge capacity” of additional funding “to support United States foreign policy objectives during a crisis abroad.”

Minority Republicans on the committee offered immediate criticism of the package, arguing that Democrats had failed to follow through on promises to enact all of the remaining commission recommendations. They complained that Democrats were limiting debate, and that many Democrats had previously opposed the changes they were now advocating.

Ranking Republican member Peter King, of New York, whom Thompson replaced, called it a “missed opportunity.”

While the House considers its legislation, the Senate’s homeland security panel plans to hold a hearing today on the status of commission recommendations and vote on a bill by the end of the month, said a spokeswoman for the committee’s chairman, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn.

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