DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2008 -- (House of Representatives - May 09, 2007)
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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I recognize myself for as much time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, at the outset, let me express my deep admiration for Chairman Thompson and for the bipartisan spirit he has shown in his running of the committee, both as chairman and during the previous 2 years as ranking member.
This is one committee of the House which I believe functions very affirmatively in a bipartisan manner because, as Chairman Thompson has said, that when the terrorists come, they don't care whether you are Democrat or Republican, they want to kill all of us. That's why I commend him again for the spirit of bipartisanship.
It was that spirit of bipartisanship that resulted in H.R. 1684 being passed out of committee by a unanimous 26-0 vote. It was a bipartisan effort, there was hard work on both sides, there was compromise on both sides, innovations on both sides. We came together, I believe, with a very strong package.
I am, however, very concerned about the manager's amendment, which is going to be coming up for a vote today, because of the 86 provisions in the bill, 42, 49.8 percent, of the provisions of the bill have either been eliminated or changed dramatically.
Some of the key ones on the issue of interoperability, in our legislation, the committee legislation, we provided that $1 billion in grants for interoperability could be used for training exercise, for training as well as for the purchase of hardware. This was demanded, strongly requested by local law enforcement, local law authorities. It is essential to interoperability. Yet that has been stricken from the legislation.
On the ``sense of Congress'' language which has been so strongly recommended by the 9/11 Commission, that the Committee on Homeland Security be the focal point for oversight of the Department of Homeland Security and for being the central committee on the issue of homeland security, just the ``sense of Congress'' language was eliminated from the bill. We go down the list, as far as authorization for Secret Service, especially considering the increased amount which will be necessary in this year to protect Presidential candidates. So many other amendments, so much other language, even, for instance, on the issue of employees who leave the Department, lobbying restrictions, which quite honestly was proposed by a Democratic Congressman, Mr. DeFazio, that has been stricken out.
Now, I realize what has happened here; I went through this during the time that I was chairman, but I think we approached it a little differently. There are other committees which are objecting to the jurisdiction of Homeland Security. There are others which are defying the wish of the 9/11 Commission, which is to have power vested in the Committee on Homeland Security. And, unfortunately, it appeased it at every juncture where objection was raised; those provisions were taken out.
Now, in the last Congress, we adopted the Port Security Bill. That was a long, hard fight. We had jurisdictional battles with other committees; but we stayed with it, and the final package tremendously increased the position of the Committee on Homeland Security and resulted in very strong legislation. On the restructuring of FEMA, that also caused severe conflicts with other committees of jurisdiction. We stayed with it, and the final product enhanced the position of the Committee on Homeland Security. On the issue of chemical plants security, similarly, there were severe conflicts with other committees. We worked with the leadership at the time, Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader BOEHNER, and that resulted also in ultimate legislation which significantly enhanced the jurisdiction of the Committee on Homeland Security.
By acquiescing so quickly to the objections or the positions of other committees, I think we have weakened our committee. And that to me is not a turf battle or not a power struggle; the issue of life and death is too important for that. But the fact is, we did not stand firm in fighting for jurisdiction of the committee.
I know the chairman has mentioned that there was not an authorization bill passed by the House last year. I agree with that. We did pass one out of committee, there was one passed in 2005. The Senate has never passed an authorization bill.
I made the judgment last year that we had an opportunity, a window of opportunity to pass significant legislation which could be brought to the House floor, which could be brought to the Senate floor, and which could pass, and that was port security, chemical plants and FEMA restructuring, and we did that. As far as this year now, we do have the H.R. 1, which still has not moved; it hasn't even gone to conference yet, and we have this legislation today, which was a fine product of the committee, but unfortunately, it has been dramatically weakened with, I must say, no input at all from the Republican side. And considering the extent to which Chairman Thompson does reach out at the committee level and there is such a bipartisan level of cooperation at the committee level, I would have hoped that we would have at least had something to say when it went to the Rules Committee when the manager's amendment was being constructed. Instead, this was done totally behind closed doors, totally to the exclusion of any Republican input. Again, perhaps it would be fine if we were an adversarial type committee, but we are not. This is a collegial committee. It is a bipartisan committee, and everything we do, every word of every provision both during the time when Chairman Cox was chairman, when I was chairman and certainly now under Chairman Thompson, it has been bipartisan. I regret that has not been the situation in bringing the legislation before the House today. So I will be later urging a vote against the manager's amendment.
But I again want to express my regard for Chairman Thompson, and hope that when this is over, when this is resolved today or tomorrow or whenever the final vote comes, we can go forward from there and work in a bipartisan way at the committee level the way we have done for the last 3 1/2 years.
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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, as we leave general debate and begin to debate the amendments, I would again say I commend the gentleman from Mississippi, the chairman, for the bill that was put forth in the committee which came out of the committee.
I am, again, disappointed by the product that came here today. I understand the realities of politics and the realities of governing, but I just wish we could have made more of an effort to move the committee product further along, rather than make the concessions that were made. There are just so many important matters that were either dramatically revised or eliminated, which weakens the thrust of where we're going.
We will be debating amendments for the next several hours. The debate will be in good faith, just as our efforts on the committee are in good faith, but I just wish the leadership of the House would do more to improve and to enhance and to further the position of the Homeland Security Committee so we can do the job that we have been chartered to do and we can do the job the Ð9/11 Commission wants us to do, to do the job that the 9/11 families want us to do, and do the job that the memory of those who were murdered on 9/11 really command that we do.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to the upcoming debate. I am disappointed in the product that is before us. Having said that, I remain enthusiastic about the job that we as a committee can do under the chairmanship of Chairman Thompson and with the strong cooperation from the minority on the committee.
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Mr. KING of New York. I recognize myself for as much time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, I understand the chairman's dilemma. The bottom line is we did pass a very strong bill out of committee. And let's just again delineate some of those provisions which were unanimously agreed to and have been agreed to: Language on maritime alien smuggling; language which would have monitored the activities of foreign students and visitors; biometric identification of illegal aliens; expanding the use of interoperability grants, which is so much needed by our local law enforcement and first responders; authorizing the Secret Service and its functions; increasing the authorizations of the Secret Service to provide security to Presidential candidates; prohibiting grants to universities which bar Coast Guard recruiters. It eliminated a report on Secret Service training facilities. And, as Mr. McCaul said before, it eliminated the provision providing for a National Bio and Agro Defense facility.
Also, more significantly, if we go to the heart of the 9/11 Commission, it eliminated the language calling for a sense of Congress that the homeland security be in fact the focal point and the central point when it comes to legislation on homeland security and also when it comes to overseeing the Department of Homeland Security.
Now the chairman has gone back in history to talk about what happened in the past. The fact is, this is a growing committee, and we all have to make decisions. We have to make value-based decisions. We have to make prudent decisions.
I was the chairman last year; and I did not go for an authorization bill
early on in the year because I thought it was important, in establishing the jurisdiction of the committee, that we go forward and adopt the most far-reaching port security bill ever enacted and, in doing so, confronting jurisdictional impediments thrown at us by other committees.
We did that. It was a long, hard fight. It began early spring and wasn't concluded until September, but we did conclude it. And not only did we enact solid legislation, but, as importantly, we were able to establish our jurisdiction at the expense of competing committees. And I say that not as part of a turf battle, but if we are going to have real homeland security, we have to have a real Homeland Security Committee.
Similarly, when it came to restructuring FEMA, which was a mammoth fight here in the Congress last year, we stood strong through May and June and July and into September; and when the final product came out, it again enhanced the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security Committee.
Also, on the issue of chemical plant security, we fought hard on that. We fought hard for our language, and we got it in. It was part of the omnibus appropriation, and that language again established the Committee on Homeland Security as the primary committee on that issue.
So these were all solid steps forward made by the committee.
Now, I understand the chairman's dilemma. I am not here to take cheap shots. I realize how tough this can be. But my point is, when we had such a solid vote, a unanimous vote coming out of committee, I think more should have been done in resisting the efforts of the other chairmen and of the Democratic leadership to strip so many of the provisions. Almost half of the provisions have been stripped out altogether or dramatically modified. So I do see this, unfortunately, as a step backwards. Certainly not a step forward.
I realize the significance of getting the authorization bill done. I am not trying to minimize that. But the fact is, considering the progress we made last year in such significant areas as port security, chemical plant security and the restructuring of FEMA, we could have done better on this authorization bill this year.
Again, I will have to urge a ``no'' vote on this manager's amendment because of the damage which I believe it does to the Committee on Homeland Security. And also, Mr. Chairman, to send a signal, not to Chairman Thompson but to the leadership of the House, that we did come forward on our side. We were willing to stand up to the administration and increase spending by over $2 billion more than the administration requests and wants. We did that unanimously on the Republican side. We also again worked with Chairman Thompson on the language that he wanted. He worked with us. So we did make that effort at the committee level.
I just wish the same level of bipartisan cooperation was shown at the leadership level of the House of Representatives rather than having the minority excluded altogether, which was never done at the committee level, either under myself or now under Chairman Thompson.
Mr. Chairman, with that, I will rest on the eloquence of my previous remarks and yield back the balance of my time.
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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself as much time as I may consume, and I would say at the outset that my understanding is that this is already factored in by the Department of Homeland Security, the whole issue of tourism. Also, similar language is included in H.R. 1 and S. 4 which currently are ready to go to conference.
Having said that, no harm, no foul. I have no objection to the language. I think it is unnecessary, but having said that, I will not oppose the amendment.
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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Mr. Chairman, this amendment adds the Secretary of Transportation to a study to increase incentives for the sharing of critical infrastructure information with the Department of Homeland Security.
The Homeland Security Act of 2002 included the Critical Infrastructure Act in title II. All agencies will benefit from this study. I know that Congressman Mica has put effort into it. It has, my understanding, bipartisan support.
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Mr. KING of New York. Reclaiming my time from the gentlelady from Texas, I always admire her eloquence and her kind words.
And, as I said, I appreciate what the gentleman is doing. I support it. I just wish we could have had the stronger language that was in the initial legislation.
But, having said that, I commend the gentleman from California and urge the adoption of his amendment.
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Mr. KING of New York. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself the balance of my time.
I would just say to the gentleman from Michigan, my good friend, that I agree that the time for study is over and the time for delay is over.
I believe the original legislation that passed our committee would have moved it forward much more quickly. This is a sense of Congress. We actually were going to demand action.
But, having said that, this is a significant step, and I urge adoption of the amendment.
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Mr. KING of New York. I yield myself such time as I may consume.
Madam Chairman, I do not intend to oppose the amendment. I just would say to the gentleman, he is addressing a legitimate concern. One question I would have, and ask this be resolved as the process goes forward, it just says all funds that are necessary from the $39.8 billion. Since Homeland Security funding is stretched as it is, since every dollar is essential to be spent for the right purpose, I would ask, as the process goes forward, we try to find a way to specify the amount necessary. I am just raising that as a point with the gentleman. I would certainly work with the gentleman as we go forward and with the chairman.
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