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UPDATE: On 9/12/06 the Senate agreed to Senator Murray’s plan to provide dedicated funding for port & cargo security.

Mr. President, this morning the Senate is considering a very important bill. It is the Port Security Bill that many members have come to the floor to talk about the importance of.

I am proud to be an original sponsor of this bill and have been working on this bill for a number of years; in fact, since five years ago after September 11 when I was the Transportation Appropriations chair at the time. I began to bring stakeholders together to talk about how we can make sure that the cargo containers that are coming into this country are secure. It is a very complex issue and very difficult to do.

We have a tremendous balancing act of making sure that the cargo containers are safe when they come into our ports but that we don't halt our economy as we move forward with this.

I've been very proud to work with a number of senators in getting us to this point and am hoping that this bill will move forward in an expeditious manner. Obviously there will be a number of amendments that come before us and look forward to working with other senators on both sides of the aisle to move them forward.

But, Mr. President, the bill that is now before the senate has one major hole. The original bill that we've been working on with all of the committees had a funding source in it for this bill that some members had some concerns about. The original bill that we offered had the funding source as tariff fees. The Finance Committee has objected to that. They were concerned about that. I understand that concern.

But because of that objection, the bill that has come before us is an important bill, but it lacks the ability to really put in place a secure system. It is essentially an empty shell without a funding source. That is why I have sent to the desk right now an amendment that we have been working on together with a number of people to make sure that this bill is not just about rhetoric but actually has the funding behind it. If we pass this bill without funding it, we will have not done our job.

The amendment that I sent to the desk extends two existing customs user fees for one year to fund this bill. Mr. President, those are fees that are collected today that are going to expire. All we are doing is extending the collection for an additional year. The fees that we are extending are the merchandise/processing fee and the passenger/conveyance fee. Extending those for just one year will produce close to $2.5 billion in revenue and will importantly provide a dedicated funding stream to pay for the new security initiatives authorized in this bill.

By voting for this amendment, this Senate will put money behind the rhetoric of port security. This Senate will put money behind the rhetoric. That is absolutely critical in today's world. Mr. President, I sit on the appropriations committee. I sit on the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. If we do not put a dedicated source of funding behind this amendment, we will simply put port security in contention with all the other functions of the Department of Homeland Security. We will be looking at Coast Guard money, FBI money, all of the important functions that we need to have within this bill and port security will just be another issue that doesn't get funded. That is why this funding amendment is so absolutely critical.

Now the funding for this amendment is going to be used to hire new customs and border protection officers. We can't just simply require our customs and border officials to do more. They are important positions, and their eyes on containers, their eyes on the tracking, their eyes on the containers as they are loaded and secured is absolutely critical. Without putting in new customs and border patrol inspectors, doing the functions that we're asking for in this bill, we simply will be sending an empty promise to America.

The funding also will improve the tracking and data collection of every container coming into our ports. That is essential funding that will make sure that what we put into those containers is sealed, someone is watching to make sure they haven't been tampered with, that no one has gotten into them, and that those containers haven't gone someplace that they're not supposed to. Just putting a tracking seal on isn't going to make sure that we know that a container's not been tampered with. We need the personnel in place to be tracking those, and that's an important funding requirement in this bill. The current bill before us does not have the funding for it. The amendment that I'm offering will make sure that we have eyes on those tracking systems.

The funding also will establish incentive program for shippers who voluntarily agree to the higher standards. That's the GreenLane section of this bill that is very important to make sure that we know that we can reduce the number of cargo containers coming into our ports that could produce a danger for American citizens and for America's economy.

The funding will also establish protocols for the resumption of cargo shipments after a disruptive incident so that we put in place a system that assures that the cargo container, should an incident occur on one of our ports, that we have a resumption strategy in place so we know which cargo, which containers can begin to move off our ports in an expeditious manner. The reason this is so important is if we don't have a protocol in place, it will take weeks, if not months, to get that cargo moving again. That will have a tremendous impact to our economy not just in our port cities, but throughout the nation, as stores don't have any retail goods on their shelves. The economic impacts of that have been outlined in this debate, but it would be devastating we absolutely need to have a protocol in place, and this funding stream will assure it is not just empty rhetoric but a funding source.

And finally, the funding is important for authorizing and appropriating money for a grant system for our ports. Critical funding infrastructure for gates, for fencing, for making sure that people are in place to know who's coming on to our ports. Critical infrastructure that we have known is lacking and needs a real funding stream, not just rhetoric saying we're requiring it.

Mr. President, I am very pleased to bring this amendment to the senate. And I hope that it is passed overwhelmingly because it is critical we put in place not just an authorizing bill to tell the American people we are putting in place a port security bill but that we actually have the funding so we can accomplish what I think everyone believes is an important bill. So I present this amendment and ask for its consideration.