Port Deal Receives Closer Scrutiny
As the House returned to session this week, the issue of port security was clearly on the minds of Members of Congress. After several days of intensely negative reaction to the Bush Administration’s decision to approve a controversial deal to turn over management of 6 key U.S. ports to a company owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the White House agreed to congressional demands that the transaction receive an additional 45-day security review. On the House Floor, there was a vote to immediately consider a bipartisan bill [H.R. 4807, the Foreign Investment Security Improvement Act] that was introduced this week to allow Congress to have an up-or-down vote on the UAE port deal once the 45-day review is completed and studied. The effort to have the House take up H.R. 4807 was rejected on a vote of 216 to 197. Rep. Levin voted to bring the port security measure to the Floor.
Why Is the Proposed Port Sale Receiving So Much Attention?
The article we ran on the proposed port deal last week generated more response from Connector readers than any other topic. Many readers agreed that turning over management of six U.S. seaports to a government-owned United Arab Emirates company was a bad idea. Others disagreed. One reader reacted with just four words, “How pathetic fo you.” So why is this topic generating such passionate discussion? One reason Members of Congress have reacted so negatively is that the Bush Administration approved this deal without consulting Congress. And, certainly, the UAE’s past ties to the 9/11 terrorists and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan raise obvious security questions. Further, representatives in the House are concerned about revelations that surfaced this week indicating that the UAE has pledged millions to support the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority and participates in the Arab League boycott against Israel. (Rep. Levin and 40 other House Members wrote to President Bush about this on March 2. To view the letter, click here.) More fundamentally, many Members of Congress are concerned that the handling of the UAE port deal is one more example of how the federal government has failed to take the issue of port security seriously. Five years after the 9/11 attacks, only 6 percent of containers entering our ports are screened. Last December, the 9/11 Commission gave the Administration and Congress a grade of “D” for checked bag and cargo screening, including cargo screening at ports. The entire issue of port security deserves far more attention – and action – than it has received to date.
Lawmakers Weigh In on New Passport Requirement
On September 1, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security released draft regulations for the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. These proposed rules require all U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to present a passport or combination of documents denoting both citizenship and identity when entering the U.S. from Canada, beginning in 2008. While there is broad agreement that security along U.S. borders needs to be tightened, it is important to do this in the least disruptive and most cost-effective manner. Rep. Levin and other Members of Congress from Michigan wrote to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this week to call for a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal and its impact on U.S. citizens and the economy. }
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