‘An Irresponsible Exercise in Political Chicanery’

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 90-9 to approve the landmark Homeland Security bill. What follows is the full transcript of Sen. Byrd’s remarks during the conclusion of the Homeland Security debate.

We have come to the end of a long, long road. For nearly five months this chamber has engaged in discussions about homeland security. But, for nearly as long a time this Congress has not engaged in seeing to it that there is actually funding to make our people any safer from the threat of another horrific terrorist attack.

It has been over four months since the House of Representatives has seen fit to pass a regular appropriations bill.

We have talked a lot about homeland security, but we have done very, very little.

We have not given the cities and municipalities—the police, the firemen, the hospital workers, the first responders, who are on the front lines—we have not given these people one red cent to help them keep us safer from the madmen within our midst in four months.

It has been a little over a year and two months since America was jolted from its tranquility by the noise, smoke and flames of two exploding commercial airlines as they smashed into the twin towers.

Yet, in these intervening months, except for the initial help we provided to New York and to Washington to aid in closing the hemorrhaging wounds of economic disruption and human devastation, caused by the terrorist attacks, not enough has changed here at home.

True, we have chased bin Laden across the landscape of Afghanistan and probably cleansed that nation of the training camps for terrorists for now. We have made progress, I am sure, in some disruption of the al-Qaida network worldwide.

But no one in this chamber, and no one in this city can look the American people in the eye and say to them: "Today you are much safer here at home than you were 14 months ago."

Because of reckless disregard for the reality of the threat to our domestic security, this administration and many in this Congress have taken part in an irresponsible exercise in political chicanery.

The White House has pressured its Republican colleagues in the Congress to reject billions of dollars in money which could have added to the tangible safety of the American people.

This White House has stopped this year’s normal funding process in its tracks, and even turned back funds for homeland security in emergency spending bills that could have shored up existing mechanisms to prevent, or respond to, another devastating blow by fanatics who hate us.

They have done this plain disservice to the people in order to gain some perceived political advantage in a congressional election year, and in order to be able to say that they were holding down spending. Further, in order to avoid criticism of the too meager dollars for homeland security, this White House suddenly did an about-face and embraced the concept of a Department of Homeland Security.

The people are being offered a bureaucratic behemoth, complete with fancy, top-heavy directorates, officious new titles and noble sounding missions instead of real tools to help protect them from death and destruction.

How utterly irresponsible. How callous. How cavalier. With this debate about homeland security, politics in Washington has reached the apogee of utter cynicism and the perigee of candor.

No one is telling our people the plain unvarnished truth. It is simply this.

This Department is a bureaucratic behemoth cooked up by political advisors to satisfy several inside Washington agendas.

1) It is intended to protect the president from criticism and fault—should another attack occur.

2) It is intended to eliminate large numbers of dedicated, trained federal workers, so that lucrative contracts for their services may be awarded to favored private entities.

3) It will be used to channel federal research moneys and grants to big corporate contributors without the usual federal procurement standards that ensure fair competition and best value for the tax dollar.

4) It will foster easier spying and information-gathering on ordinary citizens which may be used in ways which could have nothing whatsoever to do with homeland security.

And now with this new bill, which showed up only last week on the doorstep of the Senate, insult has been added to injury by provisions that further exploit the already shamefully exploited issue of homeland security with pork for certain states and certain businesses.

My, my, my, how low we have sunk.

Well, the nation will have this unfortunate creature, this behemoth bureaucratic bag of tricks, this huge Department of Homeland Security, and it will hulk across the landscape of this city, touting its noble mission, shining up its new seal, and eagerly gobbling up tax dollars for all manner of things, some of which will have very little to do with protecting or saving lives.

And maybe in five years or so, it will sort out its mission and shift around its desks enough to actually make some real contribution to the safety of our people. I sincerely hope so.

But, if the latest tape from bin Laden is to be believed, we won’t have time for all of that. If the latest threat assessments from the FBI can be believed, we will experience something catastrophic before that new department even finishes firing all of the federal workers it wants to get rid of.

What does it take to wake us up? What does it take to make the gamesmanship cease? When will we stop the political mud wrestling and begin to wrestle with the most potentially destructive force ever to challenge this nation?

Let us hope that when the gavel bangs to close down this session of Congress, it will awaken us to all of the dreadful consequences of continued posturing and inaction.

I know that this administration, with its newfound majorities in both houses of Congress, will quickly pass the remaining 2003 bills which will provide at least some modicum of real security for our people as soon as Congress reconvenes in January. They will want to claim that they can get things done.

Although I deplore the motivation and the gamesmanship behind such tactics, I wish them well and I pledge my help.

It is long past time for us to finally do our best to prevent another deadly strike by those who hate us and wish us ill. Terrorism is no plaything.

Political service is no game. Political office is no place for warring children.

And the oath of office which we take is no empty pledge to be subjugated to the tactics of election-year chicanery perpetrated on a good and trusting people.