Congress sent President Bush legislation Friday to intensify antiterror efforts in the United States, shifting money to high-risk states and cities and expanding screening of air and sea cargo to stave off future Sept. 11-style attacks.
The measure carries out major recommendations of the independent 9/11 Commission.
The bill, passed by the House on a 371-40 vote, ranks among the top accomplishments of the six-month-old Democratic Congress.
The Senate approved the measure late Thursday by 85-8, and the White House said the president would sign the bill.
Six years after the Sept. 11 attacks and three years after the 9/11 Commission made its recommendations, "Congress is finally embracing what the 9/11 families have been saying all along," said Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. "It takes a willingness to do things a different way."
The bill elevates the importance of risk factors in determining which states and cities get federal security funds - that would mean more money for such cities as New York and Washington - and also puts money into a new program to assure that security officials at every level can communicate with each other.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who steered the legislation through the Senate with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said it would "make our nation stronger, our cities and towns more secure and our families safer."
Completion of the bill, six months after the House passed its original version on the first day of the current Congress, was a major victory for Democrats who have seen some of their other priorities - immigration and energy reform and stem cell research funding - thwarted by GOP and presidential resistance and House-Senate differences.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., the vice chair of the 9/11 Commission, said with enactment of the bill some 80 percent of the panel's recommendations will have been met. "The bottom line is that the American people will be safer," he said.
The legislation to carry out the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission would:
- Change the formula for a state security grant program so that more funds go to areas designated as high risk.
- Create a new program to fund and promote communications compatibility among local, state and federal officials.
- Authorize more than $4-billion for four years for rail, transit and bus security.
- Require Homeland Security to screen all cargo on passenger aircraft within three years.
- Require the screening of all container ships in foreign ports within five years, but give the Homeland Security secretary authority to delay implementation.
- Provide civil immunity to those who, in good faith, report suspicious activities that threaten the safety and security of passengers on a transportation system or that could be an act of terrorism.
How they voted
Democrats: Kathy Castor, Tampa: Y
Republicans: Gus Bilirakis, Palm Harbor: Y; Ginny Brown-Waite, Brooksville: Y; Vern Buchanan, Sarasota: Y; Adam Putnam, Bartow: Y; C.W. Bill Young, Indian Shores: Y