House Delivers Blow to Bush Plan to Hike Security Fees by $1.5B

House lawmakers cripple proposal, says funds can't come from raising fees

It was not clear whether Cox would be able to get a funding bill through the House this year. He failed to do so last year, but his committee was elevated this year from a "select" committee with muddled jurisdictional boundaries in the last Congress to a full committee with more clearly defined oversight of DHS.

"This comprehensive legislation is the first of what will be annual authorizations of all of the programs and policies of the Department of Homeland Security," said Cox. "This annual authorization process, which is the same that is followed for the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, will ensure the close working partnership between the Executive and Legislative Branch that is necessary to the fulfillment of our national security mission."

But the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Homeland Security called the passage of H.R. 1817 a "half-hearted effort." Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the bill is a "weak attempt" to fully protect the nation. He introduced a Democratic substitute bill that would have provided for $6.9 billion more in funding than the president's budget. Included in his substitute measure was a provision to provide $115 million to study whether commercial aircraft could be protected from shoulder-fired missiles through ground-based technology. The development of a ground-based system to protect airplanes from terrorist attacks could save the airline industry billions of dollars (ABR, May 9).

In a related development, Sen. Collins sent a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff on May 25 urging him to establish a system to prescreen international passengers before they board flights. The letter also was signed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), the ranking Democrat on the committee.

"In recent weeks, two international flights have been diverted to Bangor, Maine, as a result of passenger information matching an individual record on the No Fly List," the letter said. "We are sure you would agree that these incidents demonstrate the current passenger prescreening system is not working. Not only does it create a serious security vulnerability, but it imposes tremendous costs on air carriers, taxes government resources, inconveniences hundreds of passengers, and has a ripple effect on the travel and tourism industry."

Intelligence reform sponsored by Collins and Lieberman, signed into law last December, directed DHS to establish a passenger prescreening system.