Accessibility links

Democrat Lawmakers Cautious about Homeland Security Plan

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have been reacting to President Bush's strategy for homeland defense. The release of the administration's anti-terrorism strategy came as a congressional committee heard more testimony on the plan to create a homeland security department.

President Bush's plan has hit some bumps, as committees submitted their recommendations for revisions to a bill being developed in the House of Representatives.

There was also a report by a Washington research organization, the Brookings Institution, recommending that the president's plan be scaled back.

A special bi-partisan panel headed by the leader of the Republican House majority, Dick Armey, has the job of combining all of these recommendations into one bill that the House will vote on, hopefully by next week.

The Senate, meanwhile, is working to complete its version before the congressional recess.

On Tuesday, several more members of President Bush's cabinet testified before the House select panel on homeland security. Democratic Congressman Menendez is still not satisfied with the homeland security plan.

"Merely combining agencies with like missions into a larger institution setting, in and of itself, will not suffice," he said. "We must include mechanisms in this bill to guarantee that such coordination and information sharing indeed will occur."

Congressman Menendez points out that whoever is selected to head the new homeland security department must have all intelligence and law enforcement information they require. In this respect, he says, the president's proposal still needs work.

President Bush had proposed moving the U.S. Coast Guard into the Homeland Security Department. But one congressional committee rejected that idea.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told lawmakers Tuesday the White House considers it essential for the Coast Guard to be in the new department. "It is impossible to create a department of homeland security and not have agencies like the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration at the heart of it," he said. "Regardless of the threat, it is a given that our transportation system will be used by the enemy to arrive in our midst, or deliver its weapons."

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman told lawmakers Tuesday that protecting the nation's food supply from possible terrorist attacks continues to be a top priority.

Lawmakers from both parties had been frustrated that the White House had not released any comprehensive strategy for homeland defense, since announcing plans to create a new government department.

With that strategy report now in the hands of Congress, lawmakers say there should be faster movement toward House and Senate approval of bills, leading to a final piece of legislation for the president's signature.

The special panel working on the House version of the bill can reject changes recommended by various committees. But there could still be problems along the way. In the Senate last week, long-serving democrat Robert Byrd of West Virginia threatened to block legislation there, saying it was all moving much too quickly.