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Debate: The Homeland Security ACT of 2002

Senator Robert Byrd and Senator Debbie Stabenow

Delivered on the Floor of the US Senate

[Excerpted from Congressional Record of 11/14/02]

Thursday, 14 November 14, 2002

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan: " Senator Byrd has said so many times on the floor, we need to look at details. We need to know what is in this bill. It is a different bill that came back. I was deeply disturbed as I looked through it. I want to support homeland security. I support developing a department. We all share that. This is not a partisan issue. We want to have maximum safety, security and ability, communicate it effectively and efficiently, and create the kind of confidence people expect us to create in terms of the ability to respond and ideally prevent attacks. But my fear is that under the name of homeland security we are saying special interest provisions are put in this bill which are outrageous and should not have the light of day. I think it is our responsibility to shine the light of day on those provisions."

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia:

"I remember years ago, when I was in the House of Representatives, sending out a little booklet to the people in my then-congressional district of how our laws are made ...[describes the process of hearings, committees, debate, reports, etc. etc.]... we all remember how those laws are made according to the script as prepared there in those handsome little booklets that we send out. That is how the American people expect this Congress to operate. That is the way we are supposed to operate.

But the way this bill was brought in here, less than 48 hours ago, a brand-new bill. It had not been before any committee. It had undergone no hearings, not this bill. It is a bill on our desks that has 484 pages. There are 484 pages in this bill.

It has not been before any committee. There have been no hearings on this bill. There have been no witnesses who were asked to appear to testify on behalf of the bill or in opposition to it. It did not undergo any such scrutiny.

It was just placed on the Senate Calendar. It was offered as an amendment here. And so here it is before the Senate now. There it is. That is not the way in which our children are taught how we make our laws--not at all.

The American people expect us to provide our best judgment and our best insight into such monumental decisions. This is a far, far cry from being our best. This is not our best. As a matter of fact, it is a mere shadow of our best. Yet we are being asked, as the elected representatives of the American people, those of us who are sent here by our respective States are being asked on tomorrow to invoke closure on these 484 pages.

If I had to go before the bar of judgment tomorrow and were asked by the eternal God what is in this bill, I could not answer God. If I were asked by the people of West Virginia, Senator Byrd, what is in that bill, I could not answer. I could not tell the people of West Virginia what is in this bill.

There are a few things that I know are in it by virtue of the fact that I have had 48 hours, sleeping time included, in which to study this monstrosity, 484 pages. If there ever were a monstrosity, this is it. I hold it in my hand, a monstrosity. I don't know what is in it. I know a few things that are in it, and a few things that I know are in it that I don't think the American people would approve of if they knew what was in there.

Even Senator Lieberman, who is chairman of the committee which has jurisdiction over this subject matter, even he saw new provisions in this legislation as he looked through it yesterday and today. As his staff looked through it, they saw provisions they had not seen before, that they had not discussed before, that had not been before their committee before.

Yet we are being asked on tomorrow to invoke cloture on that which means we are not going to debate in the normal course of things. We are going to have 30 hours of debate. That is it, 30 hours. That is all, 30 hours; 100 Senators, 30 hours of debate.

And this is one of the most far-reaching pieces of legislation I have seen in my 50 years. I will have been in Congress 50 years come January 3... Never have I seen such a monstrous piece of legislation sent to this body. And we are being asked to vote on that 484 pages tomorrow. Our poor staffs were up most of the night studying it. They know some of the things that are in there, but they don't know all of them. It is a sham and it is a shame.

We are all complicit in going along with it. I read in the paper that nobody will have the courage to vote against it. Well, ROBERT BYRD is going to vote against it because I don't know what I am voting for. That is one thing. And No. 2, it has not had the scrutiny that we tell our young people, that we tell these sweet pages here, boys and girls who come up here, we tell them our laws should have.

Listen, my friends: I am an old meatcutter. I used to make sausage. Let me tell you, I never made sausage like this thing was made. You don't know what is in it. At least I knew what was in the sausage. I don't know what is in this bill. I am not going to vote for it when I don't know what is in it. I trust that people tomorrow will turn thumbs down on that motion to invoke cloture. It is our duty.

We ought to demand that this piece of legislation stay around here a while so we can study it, so our staffs can study it, so we know what is in it, so we can have an opportunity to amend it where it needs amending.

Several Senators have indicated, Senator Lieberman among them, that there are areas in here that ought to be amended. What the people of the United States really care about is their security. That is what we are talking about. We don't know when another tragic event is going to be visited upon this country. It can be this evening, it can be tomorrow, or whatever. But this legislation is not going to be worth a continental dime if it happens tonight, tomorrow, a month from tomorrow; it is not going to be worth a dime. There are people out there working now to secure this country and the people. They are the same people who are already on the payroll. They are doing their duty right now to secure this country.

This is a hoax. This is a hoax. To tell the American people they are going to be safer when we pass this is to hoax. We ought to tell the people the truth. They are not going to be any safer with that. That is not the truth. I was one of the first in the Senate to say we need a new Department of Homeland Security. I meant that. But I didn't mean this particular hoax that this administration is trying to pander off to the American people, telling them this is homeland security. That is not homeland security. Mr. President, the Attorney General and Director of Homeland Security have told Americans repeatedly there is an imminent risk of another terrorist attack. Just within the past day, or few hours, the FBI has put hospitals in the Washington area, Houston, San Francisco, and Chicago on notice of a possible terrorist threat.

This bill does nothing--not a thing--to make our citizens more secure today or tomorrow. This bill does not even go into effect for up to 12 months. It will be 12 months before this goes into effect. The bill just moves around on an organizational chart. That is what it does--moves around on an organizational chart.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Senator Stevens and I sit, along with 27 other Senators, including the distinguished Senator who presides over the Chamber at this moment, the Senator from Rhode Island, Mr. Reed, tried to provide funds to programs to hire more FBI agents, to hire more border patrol agents, to equip and train our first responders, to improve security at our nuclear powerplants, to improve bomb detection at our airports. That committee of 29 Senators--15 Democrats and 14 Republicans--voted to provide the funds for these homeland security needs. Those funds have been in bills that have been out there for 4 months. But the President said no--no, he would not sign it. President Bush is the man I am talking about. He would not sign that as an emergency. These moneys have been reported by a unanimous Appropriations Committee. But this administration said no. So that is what happened. These are actions that would make America more secure today. Did the President help us to approve these funds? No. Instead, the President forced us--forced us--to reduce homeland security funding by $8.9 billion, and he delayed another $5 billion. This is shameful; this is cynical; this is being irresponsible. It is unfair to the American people. And then to tell them Congress ought to pass that homeland security bill--that is passing the buck.

Mr. President, I call attention to a column in the New York Times. This is entitled ``You Are A Suspect.'' It is by William Safire. I will read it:

"If the homeland security act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you:" Listen, Senators. This is what William Safire is saying in the New York Times of November 14, 2002. That is today. This is what the New York Times is saying to you, to me, to us: "If the Homeland Security Act is not amended before passage, here is what will happen to you: Every purchase you make"-- Hear me now-- "Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every Web site you visit and e-mail you send or receive, every academic grade you receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book and every event you attend--all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as ``a virtual, centralized grand database.'' ... "Political awareness can overcome "Total Information Awareness," the combined force of commercial and government snooping. In a similar overreach, Attorney General Ashcroft tried his Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), but public outrage at the use of gossips and postal workers as snoops caused the House to shoot it down. The Senate should now do the same to this other exploitation of fear." [ see complete Safire article at -- Byrd reads the entire article to the Senate] If the American people, if the American public is to believe what they read in this week's newspapers, the Congress stands ready to pass legislation to create a new Department of Homeland Security. Not with my vote. Passage of such legislation would be the answer to the universal battle cry that this administration adopted shortly after the September 11 attacks: Reorganize the Federal Government.

How is it that the Bush administration's No. 1 priority has evolved into a plan to create a giant, huge bureaucracy? How is it that the Congress bought into the belief that to take a plethora of Federal agencies and departments and shuffle them around would make us safer from future terrorist attacks?..."

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