Congress approves September 11 legislation
By Donna Smith
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Congress on Friday approved and sent to President George W. Bush a bill requiring screening of all cargo bound for the United States and other measures aimed at preventing another September 11-type attack.
The House of Representatives voted 371-40 for the bill that would allocate a greater share of federal anti-terrorism grants to high-risk cities, while ensuring that all states get some money for basic preparedness. The House acted a day after the Senate voted 85-8 for the bill.
"With this bill, we will be keeping our promises to the families of 9/11, we'll be honoring the work of the 9/11 commission and we will be making the American people safer," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
The bill, which would implement many of the remaining recommendations of the commission that investigated the September 11 attacks, was a high priority for Democrats since they took control of Congress in January and will help them fight Republican taunts of a "do-nothing Congress."
Bush had earlier threatened to veto the legislation over a provision that would have allowed union rights for some 45,000 airport workers. Democrats backed away from that demand and the White House said on Friday that Bush would sign the bill.
Republicans also won a provision that would give lawsuit protection to people who report suspicious activity near transportation systems.
The bill also aims to enable state and local governments to better share information with federal authorities and provide money to help communities upgrade their communications.
It requires that within five years all U.S.-bound cargo be inspected before it is loaded on ships. Democrats have pushed the cargo screening requirement for years, arguing it would guard against terrorists slipping explosives into the United States. But opponents said 100 percent screening was costly and unnecessary.
The bill also requires that all cargo carried on passenger airplanes be screened within three years and authorizes more than $4 billion in grants for rail, transit and bus security.
Congress has been suffering from low public approval ratings and Democrats are hoping to win a few more accomplishments before starting a month-long recess at the end of next week. The September 11 bill helped Democrats fulfill the third of six major campaign vows they made last year in winning control of the House and Senate.
The two others passed and sent to Bush were to increase the federal minimum wage and legislation to expand federally funded embryonic stem cell research, which backers say could help combat debilitating diseases.
Bush signed the wage increase, the first in a decade. But he vetoed the stem-cell bill because the procedure requires the destruction of human embryos to derive stem cells.
Democrats' other pending campaign promises, all involving domestic matters, involve efforts to reduce the cost of prescription drugs and college and to move toward energy independence.
Much of the voter anger at the new Democratic-led Congress, however, stems from its inability to keep another promise to begin withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq, polls show.
(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro)
Saturday, July 28, 2007