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Tax Relief Extension Reconciliation Act of 2005

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, I will speak up to 5 minutes on an amendment that is not in the first package of amendments we will vote on, but since we will have no opportunity in the second and third package of amendments, I will speak to it now.

I have an amendment that is fashioned to deal with the 9/11 Commission Report that came out less than 2 months ago, on December 5, 2005. It was the so-called report card where this prestigious bipartisan Commission, led by former Republican Governor Tom Kean and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, took a look at what we have done based on what they recommended in the 9/11 Report. It tells how little we have learned and how little we have done to actually make the homeland safer.

Most Americans, at least in my State, believe at least the most obvious steps have been taken to close the gaps in our homeland defense. They believe, at the very least, we have a plan, that we have set priorities, and we know what the next step will be.

Let me quote from the Commission's report, which is only 6 or 7 weeks old, on what we have done to assess the risks and vulnerabilities of our critical infrastructure--transportation, communications, industrial assets. Here is what they say:

No risk and vulnerability assessments actually made; no national priorities established; no recommendations have been made on allocation of scarce resources. All key decisions [on homeland security] are at least a year away.

We all remember September 11 when we discovered that local police, fire, and rescue units could not communicate with each other, could not communicate with Federal agencies. There was no way to coordinate the action, no way to share information. Things are no better today.

It gets worse. Airline passenger screening, the one place most Americans think we have done pretty well, the 9/11 Commission gives that effort a grade of ``F.''

Regarding airline baggage screening, to check for explosives, from the report on December 5, 2005:

Improvements have not been made a priority by Congress or the Administration.

This is unacceptable. This administration tries to fill in the most obvious gaps in our homeland defense, but they have not done it. We have not done it. We simply have not done it.

This amendment is designed to fill in the most obvious gaps. It begins with those areas where the Commission graded us and the President as ``F'' and ``D'' in the Commission Report. It addresses other issues such as the utter lack of a systematic program for rail security, passenger freight, stations, tunnels, rail yards, bridges.

Every dime in this amendment is fully paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes. Frankly, this is a modest list. There is much more to be done. We will need more resources to make us safer. Wiretapping, even if it is legal, is not the sole homeland defense. This amendment focuses on the most glaring and dangerous shortcomings in our homeland defense. By closing these loopholes, this amendment actually returns $23 billion to the Treasury to improve our fiscal security and reduce our dependence on borrowing from other countries.

I have been joined in this amendment--and I did not have time to notify her because I did not know until 2 minutes ago--by Senator Stabenow of the State of Michigan, who has worked tirelessly on dealing with this issue.

It is pretty basic. We have done nothing much to deal with the problems most Americans know relate to homeland security. We are safer but not nearly safe enough.

The bipartisan commission that got great grades from everybody in the Nation felt compelled on their own dime, with their own money, their own resources, not funded by the Government, to continue to issue reports and to hold hearings. And they issued a report on December 5 that is, quite frankly, embarrassing and dangerous.

So our amendment is designed to fill some of the loopholes, not all of them, that, in fact, have been left by the President's failure to secure our national interest, our homeland defense, as well as by our failure as a Congress to step to the ball.

We can and we have to marshal all our country's resources in this struggle. I will bet you $100, if you asked anybody in the public, from corporate CEOs to the average American out there, Would you rather us spend this money on securing our ports, our nuclear plants, our railroads, our cities, or would you rather us give it back in a tax break, I think it is just like the COPS bill years ago, given the choice, the American people said let's make our streets safer. I am confident they think we should make the country safer.

This amendment will be voted on not in this first tranche of amendments but the second, but I am not going to get a chance to speak to it at the later date. There was a little opening in time, and I thank the staff for letting me know this time was available.

I yield the floor.

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