The U.S. House of Representatives votes Thursday on a measure to make airliners and airports safer following the September 11th hijacking attacks in the United States.
The House measure like the Senate version which passed three weeks ago would increase the number of air marshals on flights, expand anti-hijacking training for flight crews, and fortify cockpit doors. A small fee would be added to the price of an airline ticket to help pay for the added security.
House Republicans and Democrats agree on those security provisions, but they disagree over another aspect of the bill: whether to make airport baggage inspectors federal employees.
House Democrats, who are in the minority, favor federalizing baggage screeners, a provision included in the Senate bill. They argue that such personnel should have the same federal status as customs and immigration inspectors.
But many House Republicans, along with the Bush administration, are seeking a more flexible plan. They favor federal oversight of security screeners, but with the option that those screeners are either federal workers or private contractors.
Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta: "What we will be doing, is having stern conditions that screening companies are going to have to meet. We will do the background investigation. We at the Department of Transportation through the Transportation Security Agency, will be doing the training," Mineta continued. "We will be doing the testing. What I want to do is certify the companies, certify the individuals who work for those companies, and if the companies are not doing their work, decertify the company."
At a Capitol Hill rally, House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt said he sees it differently: "What is going on here is the companies that have these contracts, the lowest bidders, don't want to give up the contracts. So they hired expensive Washington lobbyists to come lobby the administration and Congress so they can hang on to their contracts," Gephardt continued. "Well, they failed their contracts, and it's time to put them out of the contracts and get federal law enforcement to do this job."
Some House Republicans agree making Thursday's vote too close to call.
The House will vote on two versions of the bill: one identical to the Senate-passed measure, and one favored by House Republican leaders and the White House.
If lawmakers approve the latter version, House and Senate negotiators would have to resolve differences in the two bills before sending the final measure to President Bush.
If lawmakers pass the Senate version, the bill would go directly to Mr. Bush, who despite his opposition to federalizing screeners, has indicated he would sign it.