- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 10, 2007

House Democrats yesterday passed a bill that strengthens the homeland security reforms recommended by the September 11 commission, but Republicans said the legislation could undermine a program designed to slow the proliferation of technology used to make weapons of mass destruction.

The bill, which passed by a vote of 299-128, would increase the role of the United Nations in the Proliferation Security Initiative by asking the world body to force countries to agree to searches and seizures of ships and aircraft for the technology.

Republicans called the proposal, which would let the United Nations define what is permitted under the initiative, “unrealistic and dangerous.”

“It will result in the imposition of unpredictable limitations, conditions and interpretations, and result in a regulatory straightjacket overseen by an international bureaucracy,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican and ranking member on the House International Relations Committee.

The proliferation initiative announced by President Bush in 2003 is a voluntary working group of more than 70 countries investigating and stopping the trade and acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons technology by terrorists and rogue states. The member countries also interdict ships and aircraft that carry such materials.

Democrats dismissed the Republicans’ assertions, saying the bill strengthens the initiative because international law does not allow seizures and impoundments in international waters, or in the territorial waters or airspace of nonmember countries.

“This bill has nothing to do with the United Nations. It simply says that you have to screen ships abroad before they leave port for nuclear and biological weapons materials and seal them abroad before they can leave,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat.

Republicans said they expect the provision to be stricken when the Senate begins to consider the bill later this year.

Passage of the legislation posed Democrats’ first test of the president to see how far they can go on homeland security matters, about which he largely had a free hand under the Republican-led Congress.

In a statement of administration policy, which usually consists of a dry list of approvals and disapprovals, the White House took a shot at the Democrats.

“The Administration is disappointed that, in a nearly 300-page piece of legislation entitled ‘Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007,’ Congress does not address the two outstanding recommendations that apply to the Legislative Branch, which the 9/11 Commission states may be among the most important of all,” the White House said yesterday.

The bill neither reduces the number of congressional committees with oversight and spending authorization over homeland security matters nor does it do the same for intelligence matters, both steps the September 11 commission has suggested.

However, the White House did not say whether it would veto the bill, and the statement supported those parts that increase the percentage of homeland security grant funding allocated on the basis of risk.

But the administration opposes portions of the bill that call for 100 percent screening of plane cargo within four years and ship cargo within five years, because the necessary technology does not exist. It also said the costs would be exorbitant, adding billions of dollars to the federal budget each year.

Democrats say their bill addresses the September 11 panel’s concern about congressional duplication by creating a hybrid subcommittee of members of the appropriations and intelligence panels to oversee intelligence spending. The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will continue to oversee intelligence operations, possibly with the hybrid subcommittee.

But Republicans scoffed at the plan and any notion that it reduces the bureaucracy that led to poor oversight of the various homeland security and intelligence agencies.

“We enacted 39 of the 41 recommendations the commission sent to us, so that means the other two were not good ideas,” said House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican. “Democrats are not doing it because they don’t think it is a good idea. They just don’t want to admit it.”

Family members of victims of the September 11 attacks said they were disappointed that those recommendations would not be enacted but supported the legislation as a continuing effort to protect Americans from terrorism.

“We do think that Congress has to reform itself in the intelligence and homeland security oversight; the process has to be streamlined, but we will continue the fight,” said Carie Lemack, president of Families of September 11 Inc.

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