Congress and most of America seem to be cheering the passage of the Homeland Security bill, but there's more to it than meets the eye.
The overall mission of the bill is one few could quibble with -- we all want a safer America. But as Congress so often does, almost always with the public never realizing it, various odds and ends were tacked onto the bill. If politicians took issue with any of them, their opponents could claim they're against national security -- therefore, the bill passed.
So what's to quibble about? Here are a few things:
Civil liability for companies that provide airport security, make vaccines, and develop counter-terrorism technologies is being limited. Why? It seems like that might permit these organizations take their work a little less seriously, if their accountability is decreased. Accountability is a good thing, in business and life.
Some details apparently inserted by Texas representative Tom DeLay laid out qualifications for a homeland security center located at a major university. The problem? The requirements were constructed in such a way as to all but assure that Texas A&M University would be the lucky school.
- Perhaps most confounding: Whereas before there was a ban on giving homeland security business to American companies that have relocated offshore to avoid U.S. taxes, that ban has now been relaxed. Again -- why? Doesn't it seem ironically unpatriotic for firms that grew rich in the American business environment to now be blessed when they choose to avoid supporting the system they grew out of?
The good news is that a few politicians did have the backbone to think and act independently.
Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.), for example, spoke out against the provisions tacked onto the bill to reward special interests. As a result, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has promised to have several of the provisions removed soon.
Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont also spoke his mind: "I fear we are sapping precious resources from our fight against terrorism to create a new bureaucracy that will lull the American public into a false sense of security."
Here's hoping that Washington and America will welcome thoughtful dissenters and will at least consider their views seriously. Here's hoping that more elected representatives will not just vote along party -- and power -- lines, but with their heads and hearts and consciences, serving their constituents and America as effectively as they can. As always, remember that you can let your representatives know what you think.