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President Calls on Congress To Pass Airport Security Bill

By Peter Baker
The Washington Post

President Clinton cobbled together a series of anti-terrorism strategies to beef up security at airports and federal installations Monday and issued an election-year challenge to Congress to pass the $1.1 billion package before lawmakers leave town to campaign for reelection.

The plan incorporates and expands on an air safety initiative first announced last week that requires tighter screening of passengers and luggage on domestic flights. In addition, it calls for funds to upgrade security at military bases and diplomatic missions overseas as well as in federal buildings in Washington; improve training for U.S. soldiers; and expand law enforcement units that fight terrorists.

"We need all these laws and we need them now, before Congress recesses for the year," Clinton said in an Oval Office meeting where he accepted the airline report from a presidential commission. "Terror-ists don't wait and neither should we."

The spending package is intended to address escalating public concern over American security in the face of several deadly incidents in the last 18 months, from the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, to the attack on U.S. forces stationed in Saudi Arabia, to the still-unexplained downing of Trans World Airlines Flight 800 near New York in July. Coming the week after Clinton authorized missile strikes against Iraq, it could also serve to reinforce the president's image as a tough commander-in-chief.

On Capitol Hill, some Repub-lican leaders were skeptical, saying the administration has not even yet taken full advantage of the $1 billion anti-terrorism law he signed in April.

"While Congress will certainly work with the president to provide funding for anti-terrorism efforts," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, "it is important to note that we have done so already. The administration would be wise to utilize the resources Congress has already provided before it requests additional funding."

House Appropriations Commit-tee Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La., expressed irritation that the administration suddenly dropped a new spending program on Congress so late in the budget process without identifying how to pay for it.

Congress hopes to adjourn by Oct. 4 and already is trying to deal with a supplemental request for money to fight wildfires in Western states and a likely request for disaster aid for East Coast states dealing with damage from Hurricane Fran.

As it approaches the election, the White House has made a point of producing offsetting spending cuts or revenue increases every time it has offered any new proposal. That way, aides believed, Clinton could maintain the moral high ground over Republican challenger Bob Dole, who has yet to say how he would pay for his $550 billion tax-cutting proposal.

By contrast, Monday administration officials were vague on where the money for the anti-terrorism program would come from, saying it could be hashed out as part of larger budget negotiations. One possible source, they suggested, is the increase in defense spending promoted by Republican congressional leaders.

The terrorism plan amounts to a smorgasbord of different ideas addressing different issues, some new and others already aired and even rejected previously.

The airline portion, which would cost $429.4 million, embraces the tactics advanced by a commission headed by Vice President Gore, including the purchase of sophisticated devices intended to screen checked baggage for explosives at major airports and other detectors that would take samples from carry-on items, such as laptop computers or cellular telephones.

As part of this plan, domestic flights will not be allowed to take off if a passenger checks luggage but does not board the airplane, a policy now used only on international flights.

Another $667.4 million would be used to better shield federal facilities against terrorist attacks and provide more resources for law enforcement agencies.

Among other things, the legislation would pay for everything from providing larger buffer zones around laboratories at the Centers for Disease Control to installing more metal detectors at FBI field offices around the country to hiring more guards at the Smithsonian Institution museums.