Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 8, 2007

9/11 Commission bill: the mud starts flying

Filed under: Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 8, 2007

The House of Representatives is set to take up Democratic-sponsored legislation to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations tomorrow, and a war of words has broken out in the last few days regarding the legislation. The Republican staff of the House Homeland Security Committee issued a report today attacking the legislation, and House Democratic leaders defended against the charges in the report at a news conference today, as noted in this GovExec piece.

I’ve strongly and consistently supported the imperative for comprehensive efforts to adopt the 9/11 Commission recommendations over the last 2 1/2 years, consistent with the words of Commissioner John Lehman in August 2004:

“Our recommendations are not a Chinese menu,” Lehman said. “They are a whole system. If all of the important elements are not adopted, it makes it very difficult for the others to succeed.”

In particular, I’ve been disappointed so far with the lack of attention given to the reform of homeland security oversight (an issue that I’ve focused on for a long time) at the start of the 110th Congress.

But instead of focusing on these issues of principle, the Republican report engages in a series of misleading political attacks and cheap shots, taking a number of votes out of context and bringing up issues that the 9/11 Commission never discussed. For example, the Republican report says:

It is interesting to note that while the Democrats have proposed a multi-billion dollar grant program for interoperability, every single House Democrat failed to support an almost identical Republican initiative in the 109th Congress. The 2005 Budget Reconciliation included a $1 billion dollar grant program specifically for interoperability and emergency communications – yet 200 Democrats voted against both the House bill (H.R. 4241, Roll Call #601) and the Conference Report (S. 1932, Roll Call #670). Despite Democrat opposition, the measure passed and will provide $1 billion in interoperability grants to first responders this year.

H.R. 4241 and S. 1932 were a budget reconciliation bill which contained provisions to cut Medicaid and student loan programs, measures strongly opposed by Democrats. And the bills did not “provide $1 billion in interoperability grants to first responders this year” per se; instead, they authorized up to $1 billion over five years from the Digital TV Transition and Public Safety Fund.

And then there’s this:

Not only did every single House Democrat vote against making the Committee on Homeland Security at the beginning of the 109th Congress….

This is even more misleading. Democrats voted against a Republican-sponsored rules package that weakened ethics provisions to protect Tom Delay, a bill which happened to include a non-controversial section that made the Committee on Homeland Security permanent.

And one final misleading passage in the Republican report:

The 9/11 Commission stated, “The Real ID Act has established standards for state-issued IDs acceptable for federal purposes, though states’ compliance needs to be closely monitored.”

The 9/11 Commission never said a word about the Real ID Act, since it went out of existence five months prior to the debate over the Real ID Act. Perhaps the report meant to reference the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, but that’s a distinct entity from the 9/11 Commission.

I could go on, but that’s not the main point. The main thing is that homeland security is too important to be used for cheap shots and treated as a political football. We need a reasoned, serious policy discourse from both parties on these core issues of security, consistent with the deliberative, bipartisan spirit of the 9/11 Commission.

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2 Comments »

Comment by JRush

January 9, 2007 @ 4:22 pm

We shouldn’t just adopt a bunch of policies wholesale without an open, public, and vigorous debate. I disagree with Lehman–if I understand him correctly–that Americans have to swallow a bunch of policies, simply because a commission somewhere recommends them.

Lousy policies like the REAL ID Act. I hope that the 110th Congress will gut, repeal, or otherwise nullify the REAL ID Act.

My 2 cents.

JRush

Comment by Jared

January 9, 2007 @ 11:20 pm

I assume this still has to get through the Senate. Has there been any discussion as to what the prospects are for the bill on this side of Congress or how early we could see a vote?

While there are at least a few ideas about how to implement the port security provisions in a timely fashion, it will be very interesting to see what happens with air cargo. I’m not sure DHS/TSA has come up with an acceptable process or technical solution for inspecting air cargo.

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