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Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I am told that the time has been running against the 15 minutes, and I may have less than that. But if I run out of time, I have been authorized to maybe take as much as 5 minutes off of Leader Reid's time. Hopefully, I will not get to that point.

I rise today to support the Byrd rail security amendment. I know even though the Presiding Officer is new to this body he is aware I have been like a broken record for the past 4 years about rail security. When I look at the clerk, she probably thinks: Here he goes again because I have been talking about this so much since 9/11.

Quite frankly, we have an abysmal record, an irresponsible record, dealing with rail security. For the longest time, we had trouble in 2002, 2003, 2004, up until 2005, getting any traction. We have passed serious rail security bills, including Amtrak, in the past under the leadership of Senator McCain, and Senator Hollings, who was my seatmate for years, who is now gone. The McCain-Hollings-Biden amendment that was passed called for $1.2 billion. We even passed a $1.7 billion amendment. The House and the President seem--I do not know what it is. I just do not get it. I thought that maybe this time around my colleagues in this body would understand that, as my dad, God love him, used to say before he died, if everything is equally important nothing is important.

There are priorities. How there could be anything from a tax cut to even an education program that could take priority over dealing with our homeland security is beyond my comprehension. I do not get it. But obviously we are not prepared to do what I was prepared to introduce, and did introduce the beginning of the week, to add $1.1 billion for rail security, which would have brought the total number for rail security up to $1.2 billion, which was in the bill we passed last time around which would have provided $670 million to deal with security in tunnels and the places where cataclysmic events could take place--$65 million, $4 million immediately to Amtrak to go out and buy canine patrols, put more cops on, put in cameras and detectors, secure the switching stations, and all the things that lend themselves to providing for a catastrophe. The bottom line is I do not have the votes to get that done.

So I joined with Senator Byrd, who has been a leader in this area, in my sincere hope that $265 million for rail security in this amendment, which is one-fourth of the amount passed in the Rail Security Act of 2004 last October, will actually pass.

The positive piece is that although it does not give us a straight line to deal with the long-term security interests of rail, it would give them enough money and all the money they could reasonably spend in 1 year to be able to begin to upgrade our system.

The tragedy in London has focused the Congress and the Nation on rail security again this week, but quite frankly I learned from Madrid. I thought Madrid would be a wake-up call. I thought after Madrid people would say: Hey, Biden, you are right, man. We have a real problem with rail. We should really do something about this.

Nothing, nothing, nothing happened. Now, our closest ally and friend maybe gives us a different perspective on the floor. The Madrid attacks should have done it, but they did not. Our negligence to this point has been inexcusable.

Many of us have been talking about this for years. The bottom line is that nearly 4 years after September 11, over 1 year after Madrid, our rail system is as vulnerable as it was 4 years ago.

I met earlier this week in my office with the head of Amtrak security and all of his attendant folks. I cannot reveal publicly everything I learned, but it is quite alarming. Let me talk about a few things I can reveal. Critics argue that we cannot protect, for example--there are 22,000 miles of rail in this country, and critics say: Joe, you cannot protect all 22,000 miles.

That is a little bit like saying we cannot protect the airlines. We should not have air traffic controllers because we get baggage put in the holds that are not inspected? Now, is there anybody on the floor saying that?

Right now one gets on a plane and the baggage that is put in the hold is not inspected thoroughly like the baggage that is carried on. But is anyone saying we should not spend the money on TSA to inspect the people going through the gates? Of course not. Let us not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

The fact that we cannot do everything does not mean we do not do anything. That has been the mantra with regard to rail.

As I said, the argument is 22,000 miles cannot be protected, but guess what. We can prevent a Madrid or a London-style attack in the United States. We can make our rail system much safer and reduce the chance of attack because we understand that the terrorists want spectacular, cataclysmic attacks with large body counts in this Nation. Because we know that, we can narrow our focus to critical areas such as stations and tunnels, areas that security experts and common sense, as well as the CIA, tells us are the most vulnerable.

When I first did this 4 years ago, people said, oh, my God; do not point out that the Baltimore Tunnel was built in 1869, has no ventilation, no lighting, no escape, no way out. You are going to alert the terrorists. The terrorists know this. They know all the vulnerabilities. The problem is the American public does not know. So there is not enough pressure put on all of us here to make the right decision.

For example, every day over one-half million people pass through New York's Penn Station. This morning there were more people sitting in an aluminum tube below New York City--aluminum tube meaning a train car--than in a half dozen full 747 aircraft. Tell me what happens when sarin gas is released there. Tell me what happens when there are a series of explosions that far underground. Tell me what happens if anything remotely approaching a chemical weapon is used. There is no ventilation.

Riding in New York City today in the tunnels one will see construction going on, as it should, with these great big things that look like jet engines being put up in the ceiling. That is ventilation, exhaust.

So, if something goes off in the tunnel, 2 people or 20 people die, not 200 or 2,000.

Do you know what the single most visited facility in all of Washington, DC, is? It is 2 blocks down the street. I walk to it every night: Union Station. More people visit Union Station than any other facility in Washington, DC.

Go down there with me, Mr. President, and get on a train with me, as I do every night, and stand on the last car as you ride out of the station. Look; tell me if you identify a single camera. Tell me if you identify any barbed wire fencing around the switching devices. Tell me whether you see any security. Tell me whether you see any guards.

There are a half-million people going through the station at Penn Station, and do you know how many police officers are on duty at any one time there? Twelve. There are 12 in New York, 5 in Union Station.

As I said, if you walk over there with me right now, you will find no real police presence, no fencing, inadequate security cameras, all of which anybody with common sense would say made no sense.

For some reason, there is an animus toward Amtrak in Washington. I kind of figured it out, actually. I think a lot of folks here think that it is a back-door way of funding Amtrak. Otherwise, I can't understand why you wouldn't do this, after the billions we spend on airlines, as we should. I am not talking about Amtrak subsidies here; I am talking about protecting American lives.

In addition to the 64,000 daily riders on Amtrak, there are 23 locations where Amtrak facilities, stations and rails, overlap with transit facilities. In the Northeast corridor, Maryland Area Regional Commuter, has 400,000 daily commuters that utilize Amtrak--400,000 daily commuters on MARC that utilize Amtrak facilities. They walk in the station, get in a car, and it gets on an Amtrak track.

My friend from Rhode Island can tell me more about the transit systems in Rhode Island, and New York Transit, and Long Island Transit, and Connecticut Transit--et cetera. They all use Amtrak facilities.

Amtrak can only pay a starting salary of $31,000 to its police officers, and I cannot pay them more than $38,000, no matter how long they have been there, and they have a 10-percent vacancy rate on the force right now. Most of these positions are in New York and Washington where they need them most, but very little anyplace else. As I stated, in an amendment I proposed to add $1.1 billion for rail security, but the Byrd amendment only comes up with some $240 million right off the bat. We can use it. We can use it desperately. It is my understanding the Committee on Commerce and Transportation is going to mark up a comprehensive rail bill again next week, but we cannot wait for that. We need this $200-plus million right now. The $265 million in the Byrd amendment will provide urgent funding for Amtrak, including 200 additional police officers, 40 additional canine patrols, and improved fencing, lighting, and basic cameras--just basic block-and-tackle equipment that, if we have them, we can save thousands of lives.

The London bombers were identified by an expansive system of closed-circuit television in the London Metro. They have roughly 6,000 high-quality cameras there. We don't have anywhere near that capacity. We need that capacity.

Another area that needs attention is the transportation of hazardous chemicals. We have already voted this down before but, God, we should rethink this. The Naval Research Laboratory was asked what would happen in an attack on a traditional 90-ton chemical tanker. If you look at a train at a railroad crossing, you see the freight rail go by and you see these tankers--not containers, tankers; the whole car is one unit. You see them go. They are about 90 tons.

A 90-ton chlorine gas tanker, having an IED like those that explode in the streets of Baghdad placed under it on a track or under the tanker, exploding in a metropolitan area, according to the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, will kill up to 100,000 Americans. Do you hear me now? One chlorine tanker exploding in a metropolitan area will kill 100,000 Americans. And we have trouble getting Homeland Security to come up with a plan to force these kinds of tankers to circumvent the population areas? Because it costs more money? It costs business more to do that. It costs more in the products we will buy. My Lord, what are we doing?

I might add to my friends in the Congress, when you leave Union Station and you head south to Richmond, you go under tunnels. Do you know what the tunnel goes under? Straight under the Supreme Court and under the House Office Building. If you explode a chlorine tanker underground, under that, you implode the Congress, you implode the office building called the Supreme Court.

If you want to make a statement--again, these are the IEDs, the roadside bombs that are killing our brave soldiers every day in up-armored humvees. There is no camera to detect anybody walking through those tunnels. There is no security. And we sit here like darned fools and say, No, that costs money. That is going to cost us money.

I understand the procedural restrictions will prevent us from considering that bill today, but I think this is a critical issue, one we simply have to address. I am going to be pushing this legislation until the cows come home.

After Madrid and London, we simply have run out of excuses not to act. This Byrd amendment does not solve every problem, but it goes a long way toward dealing with the beginning attempt to prevent catastrophic damage to American infrastructure and American lives. We will never be able to stop someone placing a bomb on a track somewhere along the 22,000 miles of track we have. We will only be lucky, one in three or one in ten times, with a dog getting someone who walks on a train with dynamite or K-2 strapped to their body or carried in their knapsack.

But to use that as an excuse to do virtually nothing, or to use it as an excuse that this breaks the budget--give me a break. We are breaking the budget on the inheritance tax. We are breaking the budget on an additional tax break for the superwealthy. We are breaking the budget on so many less worthy expenditures than homeland security.

There is much more to say, but I know my colleagues, over the last 5 years, are tired of hearing me say it.

I have a prayer, a literal prayer, that I never have the occasion to walk on this Senate floor and say: We should have done this and we failed.

For God's sake, you guys and women who are going to vote on this, think about it in terms of how will you explain to the American people if something tragic and preventable happens after having voted against measures that, if put in place 4 years ago or put in place now, had a reasonable prospect of preventing it? That is a question I think you have to ask yourself.

I will end where I began, with my dad. My dad used to say:

Champ, if everything is equally important to you, nothing is important to you.

Every hard decision we make is about priorities. I ask the rhetorical question: What priority is higher than the public safety of the American people in the face of a demonstrable threat that isn't going away?

I yield the floor. I see my friend from Maryland is on the floor.


Mr. BIDEN. If the Senator will yield for a comment, the Senator, who lives in Baltimore and has commuted to Baltimore every day for the last 20-some years--more than that, from when he was in the House--he will remember that there was a fire in an automobile tunnel going into Baltimore Inner Harbor a couple of years ago. It shut down all of Baltimore in the harbor region.

Mr. SARBANES. Right.

Mr. BIDEN. Just that fire. Even if there were not a terrorist threat, the idea that we are continuing to have, in and out and under the Baltimore harbor, this antiquated, 150-year-old tunnel, without any reasonable upgrade, is mind-boggling.

Mr. SARBANES. The Senator is absolutely correct. The infrastructure we are trying to work with is an infrastructure from a previous century. That alone needs to be significantly improved.

Actually, the British are confronting that problem now. One of their difficulties is that this deep tunnel, from many years ago, access to it is extremely limited.

We have to get started. That is what it comes down to. We have to get smart. These amendments, the Byrd amendment and the Shelby amendment, offer us a chance to take a significant step in order to enhance our capabilities.

I thank the Senator for his very strong statement.

Mr. BIDEN. If the Senator will yield, I compliment the Senator from Maryland. This is not a mutual admiration society, but he has jurisdiction in the Banking Committee over surface rail, intracity rail, and he has taken care of this amendment. I realize he wanted to reach out further and take Amtrak into this, but he does not have that jurisdiction.

Mr. SARBANES. It is not in our committee.

Mr. BIDEN. I know.

Mr. SARBANES. The Amtrak is not in our committee.

Mr. BIDEN. That is my point.

Mr. SARBANES. Correct.

Mr. BIDEN. But the Senator wanted to do it, and he could not jurisdictionally do it. That is why I appreciate his support for the Byrd amendment as well. That is the only place we could pick up a piece of Amtrak.

I see my friend from New York. There are a million people in Penn Station today--more people, as I said--sitting at rush hour in an aluminum tube underneath New York City than a half dozen full 747s, and we are doing nothing about it.

I thank the Senator from Maryland. He has done a great job. And I thank Senator Shelby. I hope we can move it.

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