Republicans clearly don’t care about mass transit security.
Senate Republicans twice on July 14 rejected amendments to the Homeland Security appropriations bill —- pressed by senators from states with large urban centers -— to increase money for mass transit protection by as much as $1.4 billion.
First, Republicans failed to restore $50 million in rail and transit security grants to state and local governments, slashed by the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committe in May.
You may recall that in the wake of the London bombings, G. William Hoagland, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN), told CNN that the Senate planned to restore the $50 million cut. But the Senators must have had short memories — they failed to restore the grant money when passing the appropriations bill.
Democrats — who saw their plans to add $3 billion in spending to the FY 2005 Homeland Security Appropriations bill nixed by Repubicans, which would have included $350 million for rail security — were hoping that the London bombings would provide a wake-up call to their Republican colleagues.
Robert Byrd (D-WV) authored the other failed amendment, seeking to increase mass transit security spending by more than $1 billion.
He told his colleagues: “The horrific attacks in London a few days ago were eerily similar to the attacks in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004: targeted, coordinated, and timed bombings. Sadly, crowded subway systems and trains have become inviting targets for terrorists. We have witnessed the hysteria and the chaos that these events can trigger. Could it happen here? Of course.”
But the Senate, voting along party lines, nixed Byrd’s amendment 55-43-2. Only Kent Conrad (D-ND) crossed party lines.
Byrd also reminded colleagues of their failure to support two other mass transit security bills last year: “Last October, the Senate passed two bipartisan rail security authorization bills, S. 2273 and S. 2884, that authorized additional funding for securing mass transit and rail systems, but the bills did not make it to the White House. ”
S.2273, authored by John McCain (R-AZ) would have authorized more than $1 billion in rail security improvements and require the Department of Homeland Security to analyze rail vulnerabilities. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved the bill in April, 2004, but the bill was never approved by the full Republican-controlled Senate.
S.2884, authored by Richard Shelby (R-AL), sought a three-year, $3.5 billion commitment for mass transit security. It suffered a similar fate.
So, if you are scoring at home, the Republican-controlled Senate has had five chances to increase spending on rail security — three times after the Madrid train bombing, twice more after the London bombings. And they have failed all five times, even when the legislation was authored by their fellow Republicans.
Elsewhere in our Republican government, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff appeared before the House Committee on Homeland Security and was roundly assailed by Democrats who accused him of neglecting mass transit, especially in the wake of the London bombings.
To make matters worse, he explained to the Associated Press on July 14 why mass transit security should take a back seat to aviation security: “A fully loaded airplane with jet fuel, a commercial airliner, has the capacity to kill 3,000 people,” he said, evoking 9/11 imagery.
Then, he added words that infuriated urban leaders nationwide: “A bomb in a subway car may kill 30 people.”
Clearly, Chertoff doesn’t understand the theory behind “mass transit.” It’s not one little choo-choo train carrying a handful of passengers. In urban centers across America, it’s dozens, if not hundreds of trains, subways and buses, each potentially carrying dozens, if not hundreds of passengers.
And as unconscionable as it is to think that terrorists could use an airplane as a suicide bomber, killing thousands, imagine a bus packed with explosives ramming into a building. Imagine the casualties of a train packed with explosives detonated in New York’s Pennsylvania Station, which serves several hundred thousand passengers daily, but also sits below Madison Square Garden, or Grand Central Terminal, which serves several hundred thousand passengers daily, and is connected to a hotel and a retail concourse.
Chertoff’s statement doesn’t make sense for another reason — daily usage of mass transit is higher than daily usage of airports in many urban centers.
Let’s take a look at the numbers:
New York’s bus and subway system, which carries a staggering 7 million riders a day, has been the target over the years of at least two alleged attempted terrorist attacks, both of which were stopped before they could be carried out.
“Michael Chertoff is a very smart guy, but I couldn’t disagree more,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican, told the AP.
Chicago’s transit system is the nation’s second-largest, serving 1.5 million riders a day. Chicago Transit Authority President Frank Kruesi told the AP he was “shocked” at Chertoff’s comments.
“They’re basically telling us what we should be doing, but they’re not funding it, even though the threat is from international terrorism,” Kruesi said.
In San Francisco, Bay Area Rapid Transit spokesman Linton Johnson told the AP that officials were “very disappointed” and “completely stunned” by Chertoff’s comments.
BART carries 310,000 passengers a day, nearly twice as many as the San Francisco Bay area’s three major airports combined, Johnson said.
“A terrorist can affect more people on a train,” he said. “One fully loaded BART train holds more people than a 747.”
Meanwhile, Washington’s Metro system has an average daily ridership of 700,000 on the subways and 500,000 on buses serving the District of Columbia and its suburbs.
Is it just coincidence that the majority of mass transit systems are located in so-called “Blue States” — California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, etc.
I know it’s cynical and blatantly partisan, but I agree with the urban leaders — with regard to mass transit security, the actions of our Republican leaders don’t make sense.
This article first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.Powered by Sidelines