Senate 9/11 Bill Misses the Mark, Ignores Needed Security Measures

As our country continues to face the threat of terrorism, Congress’ efforts must be focused on protecting our nation from future attacks. For the past two weeks, the Senate has been debating a bill, the Improving America’s Security Act, which professes to strengthen our national security and help protect our country from terrorist threats. In fact, the bill fails to address some of the most important security challenges facing our nation.

Republicans tried to address the bill’s problems by offering a national security package designed to strengthen the legislation. Unfortunately, not only did Democrats demonstrate no interest in improving the bill, they refused to even allow a vote on our proposal.

The national security package contained an amendment that would have increased penalties for perpetrating hoaxes that result in the death, injury, or capture of a U.S. soldier during wartime. A family in my own state of Arizona was falsely notified by a prank caller that their nephew had been killed in Iraq. While the call didn’t result in their nephew’s death, it resulted in the death of another U.S. soldier who was killed while bringing their nephew a satellite phone to call home and reassure his family. This amendment would have ensured that individuals who perpetrate these deadly hoaxes face stiff penalties.

The national security package also contained amendments to ensure that Americans are protected from terrorists and other criminals living in our country illegally. For example, U.S. law currently limits the government’s authority to detain terrorists and criminal aliens during deportation proceedings. Our national security package would have ensured that dangerous aliens were kept incarcerated during removal proceedings and until deportation and would have expedited the removal of suspected terrorists and other criminals whose visas had been revoked.

The security package also contained amendments to discourage terrorism by increasing the penalties for terrorism-related activities. First, we would have increased the penalties for providing material support such as financial aid to terrorists; committing terrorist-motivated murders, kidnappings, and assaults; and paying off suicide bombers’ families with the intent of encouraging more terrorist activities. Second, we would have addressed a serious omission in our current law by making it illegal to recruit people to commit terrorist acts.

All of these amendments address serious national security concerns, and we were hopeful that Democrats would recognize this and support our efforts to amend the bill. Sadly, it quickly became apparent that Democrats were more interested in payback to their big labor union supporters than in national security. Unlike our amendments, which focused on the bill’s stated purpose of improving national security, the Democrats’ main effort was to include an unrelated provision to give collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration employees such as the security screeners who work in our airports. Ironically, this provision not only fails to improve our nation’s security; it actually endangers it.

The Department of Homeland Security has explained that collective bargaining rights would add a dangerous layer of labor union negotiations that would hinder the TSA’s ability to protect travelers. To adequately protect transportation, the TSA must have the ability to rapidly alter security procedures and deploy screeners to confront threats. Introducing collective bargaining would force the TSA to engage in lengthy negotiations with union representatives before making such changes, compromising the agency’s ability to respond in emergencies.

Democrats even rejected a Republican compromise to give workers greater employment protections while maintaining the TSA’s ability to swiftly deploy its agents to meet emerging threats. Fortunately, the president has threatened to veto this bill if it contains the union collective bargaining provision.

All in all, the Improving America’s Security Act represents a missed opportunity to improve our nation’s security. Democrats found the time to include a dangerous labor union provision, yet couldn’t find time to consider amendments to prosecute terrorism and protect our citizens from terrorists and other criminal aliens. Our nation’s security should not be hostage to partisan politics and political payback.