WASHINGTON – Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ed Markey (search) has been known for turning a fine political phrase, but when he complains that the “booties on a baby’s feet” are inspected more thoroughly than the “belly of a Boeing,” he’s not just trying to be clever.
“Unfortunately, too many Americans are not aware of the fact that the shoes that were taken off and screened are resting above cargo that hasn’t been screened,” Markey said earlier this month after fellow Democrats on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security issued a 135-page report detailing what they say are gaps in domestic national security, including air safety and current air cargo policies.
“Is there any question where a bomb is likely to be placed?” Markey, who has been in office since terrorists first began hijacking planes in the 1970s, asked in an interview with Foxnews.com last September.
“Every time he’s raised the issue, they say they realize there is a gap but they are looking for better technology,” said Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, referring to officials at the Transportation Security Administration (search).
Turner, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, told Foxnews.com that Markey is one of the “the brightest and most articulate” advocates for increased security in this area.
“We’re at risk as long as we continue to not inspect that freight for explosives," Turner said.
Others, however, warn that Markey is being unrealistic in his expectations, unfair to TSA and is trying to make political hay out the air cargo security issue.
“There continues to be technology limitations,” said Darrin Kayser, spokesman for the TSA, which was created in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Kayser said the agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security (search), has begun a pilot program to test available technology for cargo screening with the goal of inspecting 100 percent of “high risk” cargo as well as increasing the use of other resources like bomb-sniffing dogs and explosive detection technology.
Republican members of the Homeland Security Committee also argue that Markey is pushing for something that is already in the testing stages.
As TSA gears up its inspections programs, it is currently relying on the "known shipper" program, which allows long-established companies to ship cargo on passenger planes. The program also lets TSA work with the cargo industry, which has largely bucked new regulations like the ones Markey has called for in favor of adding its own screening technology to the effort.
“Any proposal that looks to 100-percent physical screening is proposing something that absolutely doesn’t make sense from a security standpoint or an economic standpoint,” said James Carafano, counter-terrorism expert for the Heritage Foundation (search), who added that Markey’s idea of national security “would shut the (cargo) industry down.”
Markey doesn’t buy it. He joined Rep. Chris Shays (search), R-Conn., last year in introducing a bill that would take federal money away from any TSA security plan that did not include electronic screening for all cargo on passenger planes. According to Markey, 22 percent of all cargo flies on passenger planes.
The bill passed 278-146 in June, but died in conference with the Senate after the Bush administration applied pressure, Markey claimed.
“The Bush administration tells us to trust known shippers on passenger planes with no inspection,” he said. “The Bush administration listened to the cargo industry, and unfortunately, American fliers must pay the price.”
But cargo security isn't the 14-term congressman's sole crusade. In the 1980s, Markey was on the forefront of the nuclear freeze campaign; 20 years later, he is challenging what he says is a lack of security at the nation’s nuclear power plants.
Markey, 57, was first elected to represent the 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House at the age of 30 after a brief stint in the Massachusetts Legislature. Aside from major headline-drawing issues, he has toiled in the legislative wars, particularly on deregulation issues as chairman and now ranking member of the telecommunications subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee (search).
Calling him “one of the House’s most legislatively productive and creative members,” the Almanac of American Politics 2003 (search) noted his important role in passing both the 1992 cable deregulation bill and the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
It seems Markey will have no problem carrying on his work on Capitol Hill in the near future. So far, he faces no challenger in his bid for re-election in November, nor did he the last two elections. His district, which covers the wealthier northern and western suburbs of Boston, is dominated by Democrats who voted strongly in favor of Vice President Al Gore in 2000, 64 percent to 29 percent for George W. Bush.
"With very few exceptions over the years, Massachusetts has a tradition of being very kind to incumbent Democratic congressmen. They all hold safe Democratic seats,” said Ron Gunzburger, publisher of Politics1.com. “It would be futile for Republicans to waste the money to finance long-shot, serious efforts against them.”
Markey, who according to National Journal has more than an 85 percent liberal voting record on social, economic and foreign policy issues, told Foxnews.com that he is confident that fellow Massachusetts legislator, Democrat Sen. John Kerry (search), will take on Bush’s unsatisfactory record as the presumed Democratic nominee for president in November.
Meanwhile, his comrades in the House, including Republican Rep. Shays, say they are glad he is on their side.
“Ed Markey is a dynamic leader who has tackled some of our country’s most pressing problems,” Shays told Foxnews.com.