NEW YORK – As the United States works hard with other countries to keep terrorists in check, lawmakers here at home are making good progress toward establishing an agency that would make defending the homeland a top priority, President Bush said Saturday.
Congress reached a major milestone in the homeland security debate.
By a vote of 65-29 on Friday, the Senate removed another procedural hurdle to creating the new domestic security agency. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he believed final passage of the bill establishing a new department would occur on Monday.
The House approved the homeland security legislation on Wednesday after the White House agreed to some concessions to Democrats concerned over the labor rights of the 170,000 employees of the new agency.
"With Congress' vote on the final legislation, America will have a single agency with a full-time duty of protecting our people against attack," Bush said in his weekly radio address.
The bill will consolidate portions of the Customs Service, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Transportation Security Administration and others under the same roof and will have them report to the new secretary of homeland security.
"The department will significantly improve our ability to protect our borders, our coasts, and our communities," Bush said. "It will pool together the best intelligence information and coordinate our response."
With the concessions made this week, Bush will be able to move people and resources to where they are needed without having to abide to strict labor and union rules. He will put good, well-organized and well-equipped people in place in the new department, he said, who will be "working day and night to oppose the serious dangers of our time."
"This compromise is the result of months of hard work and negotiations, and it will take additional time to put the agreement into place," Bush said. "The threat of terror will be with us for years to come, and we remain resolved to see this conflict through its end."
Meanwhile, the United States and its allies will continue to hunt terrorists down no matter where they may be hiding around the globe, Bush said. This country is working with more than 90 others to dismantle terrorist networks.
Noting the successes so far in this effort, Bush said the United States and its allies have so far frozen more than $113 million terrorist assets, cracked down on charities being used to finance terrorist activity and captured and interrogated "thousands" of possible terrorists, "while others have met their fate in caves and mountains in Afghanistan," Bush said.
Troops have been deployed to train forces in the Philippines and Yemen, the former Soviet Republicans of Georgia and other nations to help native troops there suppress terrorist activity and bring the killer to justice, Bush said.
"We're sending a clear message to the enemies of freedom," he said, "no terrorist will escape the patient justice of America."
Bush also echoed his earlier statements that he will keep a watchful eye on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as U.N. weapons inspectors prepare to reenter Baghdad after four years of leaving the country's weapons of mass destruction program unchecked. Bush reiterated the fact that Saddam has, in the past, promised to disarm but has not done so.
"America and the world are now watching Saddam Hussein closely," Bush said. "Any act of defiance or delay will indicate that he is taking the path of deception once again, and this time the consequences would be severe."
"The dictator of Iraq will give up his weapons of mass destruction, or the United States will lead a coalition to disarm him."