Aviation Security Act Debate, 'A Farce?'

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:28 PM EDT

Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) says debate on S. 1447, the Aviation Security Act, is "rapidly turning into a farce." He made the comments on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

"Clearly there has been no debate on post-cloture on the Aviation Security Act," McCain added. "We need to act. We need to act on aviation security with our differences of opinion...let's have debate and the votes."

The Senate voted 97-0 Tuesday to invoke cloture on S. 1447. That action forces the bill onto the floor of the Senate, but allows up to 30 hours of debate divided equally between Democrats and Republicans before the vote is taken. That period would expire at 4:57 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time Wednesday, if both sides of the aisle claim all of their time.

"There's no one preventing us from moving forward on this side of the aisle," claimed Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Democratic whip. "We want to move forward on airport security. We're not stopping anyone from moving forward on airport security."

But Reid says Democrats also want to consider safety measures for Amtrak and additional unemployment benefits for displaced workers from airline-related industries as amendments to S. 1447. Republicans, like Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), do not necessarily oppose those provisions, but do not want them considered as part of the airport security legislation.

"I think we need to be very watchful," Thomas said, " that we don't find ourselves putting on routine things and using the security (bill) as a means, as a vehicle for doing some things that really have very little attachment to security."

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) accused opponents of the amendments of not treating the terrorist threat to the United States seriously.

"The problem is that we have a handful of people here in the Senate who are intent on serving as human break pads to stop us in our tracks," Dorgan said.

Concern over a national energy policy is also holding up progress on aviation security and anti-terrorism proposals, as well as appropriations bills.

Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) criticized the Democratic leadership of the Senate for stopping hearings on the topic in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He says reducing America's dependence on oil from the Middle East is just as important to the country's future security as the proposals in the aviation or anti-terrorism bills.

"We have a full plate, of course," Thomas acknowledged. "But I believe, strongly, that energy now, particularly because of the threats of overseas intervention becomes one of the things that we must, necessarily, add to our list to complete."

Thomas says he's not asking that energy policy be considered before aviation security is addressed. He just wants assurance from Democrats that an energy bill will be debated and voted on before the Senate recesses later this year.

"No, I don't agree...that an energy bill is of the same urgency as the Aviation Security Act is right now," McCain said. "No rational observer that I know of would agree with that statement."

McCain is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. He and committee chairman Sen. Earnest "Fritz" Hollings (D-S.C.) co-authored S. 1447, and have agreed to oppose to any unrelated amendments.

McCain says the proposal should be debated, amended, and passed by the Senate before members leave for the weekend.

"I urge my colleagues to...perform our duties to the American people," he said. "We have men and women right now, who are in harm's way, who are performing their duties to the American people. It seems to me that it wouldn't be a great deal to ask for us to move on this legislation."