Senate Nixes Container Screening Bill

STRONG opposition from the shipping industry, Republicans and a handful of Democrats has helped sink a new Democratic effort in the US Senate that would have made 100% inspection of inbound containers compulsory.

An amendment to the Senate's 9'11 Commission Implementation Bill, proposed by Senators Charles Schumer of New York and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, sought to ban all containers emanating at major foreign ports from entering the US within three years of the law's passage unless they are scanned and sealed at the port of embarkation.

The amendment was voted down 58-38, following opposition from leading trade groups.

'Requiring 100% scanning of more than 11m containers annually may be well intentioned, but it is not feasible given the current technology,' the National Association of Manufacturers wrote in a letter to senators.

'This requirement could strangle commerce, have a significantly damaging impact on American manufacturers and cost jobs.'

Mr Schumer and Mr Menendez had introduced their amendment seeking to replicate verbatim in the Senate version the 100% inspection clause that has already been ratified in the US House of Representatives' version of the 9'11 Bill.

The House Bill would extend the 100% container inspection requirement to all foreign ports in five years.

A joint statement by the two Senators in support of their amendment noted: 'Every day, Secret Service officers scan 100% of White House visitors and Capitol police officers scan 100% of visitors to the Capitol, including staff.We must demand the same standard of security at our ports.'

The Senate has yet to vote on its version of the 9'11 Bill. However, Senator Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, has expressed a desire not to include the 100% inspection clause in the draft being readied for vote.

Mr Lieberman and Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins, a ranking member of the committee, said after the Schumer-Menendez amendment was voted down that the requirement is 'premature'.Both agreed technology does not yet exist to scan all cargo at foreign ports.

While shipping experts expressed relief at the vote, sources familiar with the workings of Capitol Hill anticipate a potential dogfight at conference level over the 100% inspection issue, underlining the challenges faced by opponents of the clause.

The final Bill to be signed by the President into law has to be a melded version of the House and Senate Bills.A conference committee would do this once both Bills are passed.

Away from shipping industry concerns, there is a potentially even more divisive issue at stake at conference level.This involves Democratic-supported language that would give airport screening personnel collective bargaining rights, among other entitlements.

There is speculation that this subject might trigger a Presidential veto of the Bill.

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