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Screen all cargo?

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Jan 9, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: The 100 hours the Democrats have been talking about for months are officially underway. The new majority in the House kicked off debate on its first legislation today. Issues considered classically Democratic will have to wait. Minimum wage is tomorrow. Medicare drug prices aren’t ’till Friday. Security was number one on the list. A bill that would implement most of the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission, including a requirement to screen all the cargo that enters this country by sea or air. From Washington, Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.

NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Screen all cargo? Sounds like a pretty good idea when Democrat Bill Pascrell of New Jersey talks about it.

BILL PASCRELL: The Congress will not wait another day to make the necessary improvements to our homeland security. Our ports will be better protected, and our aviation will be better defended.

Among other things, the bill would require all cargo on passenger planes and ships headed to the U.S. to be scanned overseas. But all planes and all ships? Everywhere? To the tune of tens of billions of dollars? Ports, especially, would be hard hit.

JAMES JAY CARAFANO: Now what you’re talking about basically is painting the entire global network with a kind of super glue and slowing everything down.

That’s James Jay Carafano, of the conservative Heritage Foundation.

CARAFANO: It’s very difficult for a port like Hong Kong or Singapore or Rotterdam that says, OK, here’s one set of procedures that we’re just going to use for shipping things to the United States, and over here we’re going to build a whole another set of port facilities.

Supporters of the mandatory cargo screening say foreign ports would have five years to iron out the kinks.

But would the screening technology even work? Joe Smagowicz, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman says, even after cargo containers have been screened and sealed, they’re still not completely safe.

JOE SMAGOWICZ: It’s the old story. I mean, can we ensure that every single one is never going to be tampered with? I don’t think we can say that.

Senate skeptics are asking some of these same questions. The House bill’s fate there is far from certain.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer, for Marketplace.

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