WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday.
Mr. President, I rise to support the motion for cloture that will be voted on in about 15 minutes. This is a way to begin bringing this debate on the creation of homeland security to a close and to allow our government to begin the urgent business of creating this new department. For those of us who have supported this idea for over a year now, this moment is long overdue. But I must say, I am troubled by the draft of the substitute bill that began circulating yesterday which in my view has not only a number of very good parts in it, which are quite similar to those contained in the bipartisan bill reported out of the Governmental Affairs Committee, but also has a number of serious short shortcomings that I hope to discuss when it comes to the floor either later today or tomorrow. I am especially concerned that this new substitute bill creating a November 13, 2002 Department of Homeland Security also contains with it a number of special interest provisions to that are being sprung on the Senate without prior warning or consideration. This is really not the time for that. We all ought to be focusing on the terrorist threat, the need to create a Department of Homeland Security to meet that threat and not on using a vehicle that is moving, probably to passage, to put into it a host of pet personal projects. I hope the President and members of the leadership will discourage senators and members of the house from using this homeland security debate as a vehicle for accomplishing those more special purposes. Mr. President, more than 14 months have now passed since September 11, 2001, that day when terrorists viciously exploited our vulnerability and took the lives of 3,000 of our friends, family and fellow Americans. Thirteen months have now passed since October of 2001 when Senator Specter and I initially proposed legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security to meet and beat the terrorist threat. This measure was not just bipartisan. It was in fact intended to be nonpartisan. Our proposal had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with giving our government the ability to protect the American people from another terrorist attack. I point this out now, not out of pride but to make clear how far we’ve come in some ways in the wrong direction and how much time we’ve taken before making this urgent transformation. In the beginning the vision of a Homeland Security Department was chaired by our former colleagues, Warren Rudman and Gary Hart. Then it was put forward in our committee bill. Then as happens to good ideas in a democracy, it gained support and steam in congress. At the outset, President Bush and most Republicans in congress resisted our legislation. I never took that resistance to be partisan, and I don’t believe it was. The President argued that the coordinating office of homeland security within the white house, led by Governor Ridge would be strong enough to do this massive and complex job. So for eight months the administration did oppose the creation of a Homeland Security Department. In the meantime, the Governmental Affairs Committee held a total of 18 hearings exploring every possible aspect of our homeland defense vulnerabilities and how they should be fixed. On May 22 of this year, the product of that work, a new version of the bill, was reported out of our committee, unfortunately on a party-line vote, with all Democrats voting in favor of a department of homeland security and all Republicans opposed. But that partisan split did not last for long. A month or so later, I was very pleased when, last June, the President and most members — most of our Republican colleagues — endorsed the proposal to create a Department of Homeland Security. Mr. President, somebody once said that it’s common in Washington to see people change their positions but rare to see them change their minds. And I’d like to believe that’s exactly what happened in the White House, based on experience. The President and his assistants changed their mind about the desirability of a Department of Homeland Security. We then worked with the White House and Senate Republicans to build the greatest possible support for a bipartisan bill. In July of this year, our committee sent such a bipartisan proposal to the senate floor which we began to debate in early September. And we had a good debate on this proposal, as was acknowledged by all people on both sides. Our committee legislation overlapped the President’s proposal and the house-passed bill on 90% or 95% of the issues and decisions involved. But somehow, despite finding ourselves on the same page, we couldn’t find a way to turn the page together to create a more secure nation. The sticking point, of course — the major sticking point — was civil service protections and collective bargaining rights for homeland security employees. And we tried in good faith to bridge that divide. We pushed repeatedly for a vote on a very reasonable bipartisan proposal. We pushed repeatedly for a vote on a very bipartisan proposal crafted by Senators Breaux, Nelson and Chafee to break the unnecessary logjam over the rights of federal workers. But that was not to be our hour. Colleagues on the other side did not yield. Five times they refused to allow a vote on their own bill, even though democrats had time and again given ground and simply wanted to vote on the compromise amendment. And as will be remembered most because of senator Daschle’s justified expression of anger on this floor, the bush administration even began to question the patriotism of Democratic senators rather than join this good-faith area of disagreement to try to come to an agreement. And I must say, Mr. President, in a new low in the tawdry business of political campaign advertising, Senators Cleland and Carnahan were subjected to ads that took votes that they cast out of context on homeland security and questioned their patriotism. That was outrageous and unacceptable. The fact is that these two senators, Carnahan and Cleland, had been early supporters of a Department of Homeland security. So what started out as a nonpartisan effort to protect America’s national security, unfortunately became a very partisan effort to decide elections. Well now the campaign is over, and it’s time to turn a page once again. Benjamin Franklin said, “you may delay, but time will not.” I say this afternoon that we may delay, but the terrorists will not. Senators Hart and Rudman have issued another report within the last week or two, and they predicted an attack, another terrorist attack. They’ve said that it “will result in even greater casualties and widespread disruption to American lives and the American economy. The need for immediate action is made more imminent by the prospect of the United States going to war with Iraq and the possibility that Saddam Hussein might threaten the use of weapons of mass destruction.” Mr. President, our vulnerabilities remain painfully serious and our national apparatus to protect national security is dangerously disorganized. That is why it is so critical to pass a bill creating a Department of Homeland Security led by a strong and accountable secretary. That will start to close our vulnerabilities and improve our homeland defenses. Safety in this new age is a civil right. When human beings, when Americans live in fear, their rights are compromised. So by invoking cloture and moving towards a resolution on a Department of Homeland security today, we will be saying loud and clear that we as a nation do not succumb to fear. We will face what threatens us with strength. We won’t be shaken by that voice that once again has threatened us on audio tape because we will secure our own future by working together here in Congress to better organize our government and thereby to secure more control of our own destiny. Fear, uncertainty, and delay will be overcome by strength, unity and American ingenuity. We will protect our friends, our family and our children against the worst designs of our terrorist enemies by drawing on the best in each of us and hopefully in the days ahead we will do it together. Mr. President, I urge my colleagues to vote for cloture on this vital legislation.