Sunday, October 01, 2006

Reid: America Deserves Better on Port, Transit Security

Reid: America Deserves Better on Port, Transit Security

Contact: Jim Manley or Rebecca Kirszner, 202-224-2939, both of the Office of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today released the following statement, which was entered into the Congressional Record.

"Mr. President, the days before a long recess are always a hectic time as we scramble to complete our work. This conference took a lot longer then it needed to take and the events leading up to the filing of this report represents an abuse of the process. The Senate passed this bill three weeks ago, but the House waited until yesterday to appoint conferees. The conferees held one perfunctory public meeting last night where no bill language was provided, no amendments allowed and no votes taken in public. In fact, there seemed to be more interest by the majority conferees in determining what additional unrelated bills could be jammed into this conference overnight and not on improving our homeland security.

"These types of shenanigans really show a lack of respect for the members of this institution and a disregard for the serious task at hand.

"I was encouraged when this bill passed the Senate three weeks ago. Senators from both sides of the aisle worked together to pass a transportation security bill for seaports, mass transit, freight rail, and commercial aviation systems and actually extended expiring customs fees in an attempt to pay for some of the new port security initiatives.

"Three weeks later after negotiations with the House, all but the port security initiatives were dropped at the insistence of the House Republicans, despite overwhelming support in the Senate. The new initiatives for mass transit and freight rail systems would have fulfilled an important recommendation of the 9/11 Commission Report, which recommended that the Federal Government address a much broader range of transportation security issues in addition to those undertaken in commercial aviation.

"A Democratic amendment adopted in the Senate also would have provided a source of funding to fund some of the new port initiatives in the bill, given the fact that we are not adequately funding current port security programs. This meager attempt to begin to fund these programs was also dropped at the insistence of the House Republicans.

"It has now been five years since the attack on the World Trade Center and little has been done to make our transportation systems more secure other then the obvious improvements in commercial aviation. There is no urgency by this Administration. One gets the feeling that they believe these transportation security issues are really not a federal responsibility and instead should be funded by state and local governments or the private sector. Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff scoffed at the idea of spending money to protect Americans who use mass transit, noting that a bomb in a subway car would kill only 30 people. Other Republicans, including Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security Henkey, have said that they think rail and transit security should be a state and local or private responsibility.

"Democrats believe government cannot 'pass the buck' on protecting Americans from the threat of a deadly terrorist attack to the private sector or to our already-squeezed state and local governments.

"The U.S. mass transit industry has said it needs $5.2 billion in capital expenditures from the federal government to protect American citizens from deadly terrorist attacks. But, since 2003, the federal government has only invested a total of roughly $400 million in transit and rail security for the entire country, compared to $20 billion on aviation security during that same period. President Bush's FY2007 budget completely eliminated rail and transit security grants and intercity bus grants, which were funded at paltry amounts in 2006.

"This is just another example of misplaced priorities. According to the RAND Corporation, there are about 30 terrorist attacks on trains and rail-related targets per year. Our close allies in Britain, Spain, and India have been the victims of deadly terrorist attacks on rail and transit targets in recent years. Yet Republicans stripped rail security out of this bill so they could add unrelated provisions.

"I am proud of the work of the Democratic caucus on this bill and on earlier homeland security measures. It was a Democratically controlled Senate that passed a landmark aviation security bill and a comprehensive port security bill immediately after 9/11 -- over the objections of the Republican controlled House and the White House. These bills acknowledged for the first time that securing our maritime trade and our commercial air passenger system were national security responsibilities of the federal government and should not be relegated to contractors or the private sector. Similarly, Democrats have led the way in developing and pushing security measures during this Congress related to ports, freight rail, aviation and mass transit and I am proud of the work the caucus has done on this bill.

"The port security provisions in here reflect a lot of hard work and bipartisan effort, so are worthy of our support. But, I don't take a lot of pride in giving the American people half a loaf when it comes to security. I think all in all, this is another time that the Republican majority has let the American people down. And I hope that the American people are sick of half a loaf and will agree with me on the need for a new direction."