Senate rejects GOP changes to anti-terrorism bill

The Senate on Tuesday defeated two Republican-backed amendments to a homeland security bill, passing the legislation late in the afternoon.

The bill aims to implement unfulfilled recommendations of the commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks. Democrats and a handful of Republicans voted to table two amendments from Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

The first amendment would have caused every provision in the bill to expire in five years. Coburn argued that the so-called sunset provision was necessary in order to ensure congressional review of homeland security policy.

"We don't know what the terrorism situation is going to be in five years," he said. "None of us know exactly what we need to do five years from now, and a sunset will not cause this to lapse. It will cause us to act."

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., led opposition to the amendment, calling it "disruptive" and "bizarre." He said the bill contains numerous provisions to update security policies based on lessons learned in recent years.

The second Coburn amendment would have required the Homeland Security Department to comply with a federal law that prohibits improper payments. The amendment would have prohibited grants to state and local governments until the department certified the fiscal integrity of how grants were being managed and spent.

The National Governors Association opposed the amendment, arguing that it would have prevented state governments from receiving grants. Coburn said his amendment would have forced Homeland Security to better manage its money.

"That is tough love. It's putting them under the gun," he said. "That's exactly what we're supposed to do. As this amendment goes down ... the senators are going to reject the very idea of having accountability."

Senate Homeland Security Committee ranking Republican Susan Collins of Maine led opposition to the amendment, saying it would "halt" grant programs, and penalize emergency responders and state agencies for faults of the Homeland Security Department.

"It isn't just the governors and the emergency managers; it's also the Department of Homeland Security that strongly opposes the amendment," she added.

Off Capitol Hill, meanwhile, experts addressed the security priorities of the 110th Congress at a security technology summit hosted by Equity International.

Rob Housman, the founder of the Housman Group, a public affairs firm specializing in homeland security, said Democrats have made the issue a top priority. He noted the party's push for better rail security and more cargo screening.

Veronique Pluviose-Fenton, the policy director at the House Homeland Security Committee, said panel Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wants to work with the department to "provide resources and staff where Congress can." She added that Thompson said the nation "can't do homeland security on the cheap."

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