(Update: The House passed the bill by a vote of 299-128, with many Republicans questioning both its cost and effectiveness.)
(CNSNews.com) - As the U.S. House of Representatives was preparing to pass a massive homeland security bill Tuesday without holding hearings beforehand, the Senate took a more considered approach, opening hearings to determine how to implement the remaining recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission.
In the U.S. Capitol, representatives scheduled three and a half hours to debate the 5-day old, 279-page bill. Some experts worry that the new Democratic majority's eagerness to make its mark with quick action may lead to flawed policymaking.
"Homeland security and counterterrorism policy is simply too important to be rushed through the process," said David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University.
Schanzer said some aspects of the bill, like risk-based allocation of homeland security funds, have been debated for years and are ready to be passed.
But several newer proposals "ought to have a chance to get public comment on them, people should have the opportunity to point out their strengths and weaknesses, amendments should be considered, and then it should be dealt with on the House floor," Schanzer said.
The bill addresses aspects of homeland security that Congress has not fully implemented since the 9/11 Commission made its recommendations in July 2004, including efforts to improve communications among emergency responders and cooperation between intelligence and security agencies.
The bill and related efforts also aim to consolidate and clarify congressional oversight of the executive branch's implementation of anti-terrorisms programs.
Schanzer, a former Democratic staff director for the House Homeland Security Committee, told Cybercast News Service that Pelosi wanted to push the legislation through because she "decided that there'd be some sort of political benefit from doing so," adding that he "would disagree with that."
"Having a consistent and constant work on homeland security and other national security issues where many of the issues that came up in the bill were considered on a monthly basis rather than all at once would actually be politically more beneficial to Democrats than having this one symbolic day at the beginning of the session," Schanzer said.
Complicated or controversial aspects of the bill - such as mandating screening of cargo containers shipped into the United States and threatening to cut off foreign assistance to Pakistan - could "cause more problems than they would solve," Schanzer said.
"Hasty passage," he cautioned, "would be a mistake."
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been pushing for quick passage of the bill as part of her agenda for the Democrats' first 100 hours of legislative control.
On her website, Pelosi notes that 62 percent of Americans supported implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations in a Gallup poll one month before the election. A CNN poll conducted in December found that 64 percent of Americans support "implementing all of the anti-terrorism recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission."
In testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Tuesday, former 9/11 Commission Chairman Lee Hamilton called the House bill "a giant step forward toward the completion of our work" and praised the "strong message from the leadership of the House to take immediate action on our recommendations."
Hamilton said it is "clear that so much still needs to be done, and there is little time left to do it. The terrorists will not wait."
Yet some House Republicans objected to the bill's quick turnaround. During debate, Rep. Harold Rogers of Kentucky said the bill was a Democratic "effort to look aggressive on homeland security" and called it "overly costly and draconian."
"Now is the time to build upon the substantial work of the last four years and seriously debate our homeland security needs rather than recycle political ideas for political ends," Rogers said.
James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation said Congress "should pass prudent legislation" but said the goal of addressing each of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations was misguided.
"Legislation that piles on more unrealistic mandates, requirements or reports in order to check the box that the new Congress has touched on every Commission recommendation will not make these programs more efficient or effective," Carafano said in a report on the effort.
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