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1/9/07-WASHINGTON

Dems start 100-hour clock

 House Democrats kick off their self-imposed 100-hour deadline to pass priority legislation on Tuesday, beginning with a national security bill.

The bill, which aims to pass recommendations by the 9/11 commission, is backed by former commission members Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer -- a former GOP member of the House.

The legislation would require all air and shipping cargo entering the United States to be screened. The measure also would change the prioritization criteria of homeland security funds for individual states.

"If this bill ... is enacted, funded and implemented, then the American people will be safer," Hamilton said Monday.

Hamilton, a former Democratic House member, estimated that about half of the commission's recommendations have not yet been put into place.

"We are -- all of us on the 9/11 commission -- deeply pleased that the speaker and the leadership of the House have decided to put this bill forward with the No. 1 designation," Hamilton said.

Though many Republicans were expected to support the measure, The Associated Press reported that some GOP members object to provisions of the bill and the speed with which Democratic leaders planned to move it through the House, bypassing hearings.

"To make it part of a 100-hour show shamefully trivializes an issue of life or death," said Rep. Peter King, R-New York, top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee told AP.

Democrats, who took control of both the House and Senate last week for the first time in more than a decade, declined to cite the bill's total price tag, according to AP.

Six major pieces

In the run-up to November's midterm election, House Democrats vowed that if they won a majority, they would put the country on a new course by passing six major pieces of legislation addressing Democratic priorities, in just 100 hours of floor time.

Other Democratic legislative goals during the countdown include lobbying reform, raising the national minimum wage, reducing prescription drug costs for seniors and cutting college loan interest rates for students. A national poll released last week indicated that Democrats have strong support for nearly all the measures they want to pass in their first days in charge.

However, before the "100 hours" of legislation can become law, it must clear the Senate, which operates at a more languid pace, and President Bush could use his veto pen to derail measures he finds objectionable.

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, said Monday that under the provisions of H.R. 1, all air cargo entering the nation would be screened within three years and all shipped cargo in about four years.

The way homeland security funds are distributed to states would also change under the bill, said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi.

"All states will receive a minimum amount of funding, but the rest of the money will be targeted based on risks," Thompson said.

Lawmakers from New York and other states with potential terror targets have long complained that too much of the federal funding earmarked for homeland security is being sent to states and communities where the risk of an attack is low.

The House resolution will also require federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to better share information, and it sets up a grant program to fund communications improvements so that all first responders can talk to each other over "interoperable" systems, Thompson said.

Bill would reorganize intelligence oversight

In a move aimed at addressing another key recommendation of the 9/11 commission, the House is also expected take up a separate measure Tuesday to create a new select committee designed to better integrate U.S. intelligence oversight with the appropriations process.

The new panel would include members from both the Intelligence Committee, which authorizes and oversees intelligence programs, and the Appropriations Committee, which holds the purse strings.

"We will have the ability of both committees to work together to see to it that we conduct oversight not only of budget actions, but also of activities of the intelligence community," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

The 9/11 commission recommended that intelligence oversight by Congress be reorganized, calling it "dysfunctional."

Source: CNN Newsource

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