The Democratic-led U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a bill to improve aviation security to prevent the kind of hijackings that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon one month ago. The Republican-led House has yet to act on the measure.
The bill, following recommendations made by President Bush, authorizes the presence of air marshals on flights, calls for measures to fortify cockpit doors, and boosts anti-hijacking training for flight crews. It would also require that federal workers, rather than private employees, screen bags at the nation's largest airports.
The measure would impose a small ticket fee to pay for the security improvements.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona is a co-sponsor of the bill along with Democrat Ernest Hollings of South Carolina. "Aviation is more important than ever to our economy and social well-being, he said. We cannot afford the tough choices when it comes to security. The traveling public needs to have its confidence restored in the safety of flying.
The Senate approved a number of amendments to the bill, including one sponsored by Republican Bob Smith of New Hampshire that would allow pilots to be armed. Under the measure, airlines and pilots would make the decision whether to put weapons in the cockpit.
Work on the aviation security bill had been bogged down for more than a week amid disagreement over an amendment to help laid-off workers.
While there is general support for helping the estimated 140,000 aviation industry workers who have lost their jobs since the September 11 attacks, many argued that the issue be dealt with separately. They were concerned that inclusion could lead to other unrelated amendments being introduced.
The sponsor of the amendment, Democratic Senator Jean Carnahan of Missouri, withdrew the amendment, clearing the way for passage of the bill.
But Democratic Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut angrily condemned Republican delaying tactics that forced Senator Carnahan to pull the amendment. He made his comments just hours after a Congressional memorial service was held to honor the victims of the September 11 attacks. To see what we did to average people out there, on this the day one month later, when we memorialized those who lost their lives, that this chamber could not find in its heart to come up with a few extra dollars to help people who lost their work, he said. That's a sad day. That is not the way to commemorate those who gave so much one month ago.
The aviation security bill now goes to the House, where its fate is uncertain because many Republicans there oppose a federal takeover of baggage screening. They object to what they believe would create a new federal bureaucracy.
House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri criticized Republican leaders' reluctance to bring the bill to the House floor for action. I'll say it again. It is one month since this [tragedy] happened. We have not had a vote, he said. All we're asking is to put the airline security bill up (for a vote). I know there are disagreements on how to do all this. But let's move. Let's vote. Let's see if there aren't bipartisan majorities in the House to do this.
The House takes up anti-terrorism legislation later Friday.