WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's largest ports, including Seattle and Tacoma, present a tempting target for terrorists, and stronger measures are needed to secure the shipping berths, Sen. Patty Murray says.
Murray, D-Wash., spearheaded an effort to include more than $200 million to increase port security as part of an emergency spending bill to pay for the war on terrorism.
The Senate gave overwhelming approval early Friday to that bill, costing more than $31.5 billion in all, ignoring a White House veto threat and setting up a politically tinged showdown over the price tag for domestic security.
After four days of debate, senators approved the legislation 71-22 in a post-midnight vote.
While airports, highways and bridges have gotten most of the attention in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, the nation's seaports are at least as vulnerable and need just as much attention, Murray and other supporters said.
''It is impossible to overstate the damage that could be done to our economy if we are suddenly required to slow down the trade lanes into and out of our country because of security concerns,'' Murray said earlier.
Customs and law enforcement officials now check just 2 percent of the six million containers arriving at the nation's 361 ports, officials said. After Sept. 11, concerns grew that terrorists might resort to such tactics as ramming a hijacked tanker loaded with oil or explosives into a major American port city.
A pilot project championed by Murray would spend $28 million to beef up security at the nation's three largest regional ports: New York and northern New Jersey; Los Angeles-Long Beach; and Seattle-Tacoma. That money was included in the bill.
Together, the three port areas take in more than 50 percent of the large containers that enter the United States every year.
The ''Operation Safe Commerce'' initiative would require officials to secure cargo containers from the point of origin almost to the point of final destination.
The bill also includes $84 million for the construction of Immigration and Naturalization Services facilities along Washington state's border with Canada, including $500,000 for the Blaine, Wash., Border Patrol Station, $1.1 million for the Oroville, Wash., Border Patrol Station, and $3 million for a lease acquisition at the Colville, Wash., Border Patrol Station.
The bill provides funding for at least six new homeland security response boats, two of which would be stationed in Puget Sound.
Senate Republican leaders said they will count on upcoming House-Senate negotiations to pare the counterterrorism spending measure or produce a bill that President Bush would veto -- just as this year's campaigns for congressional control are ramping up.
Bush proposed a $27.1 billion anti-terror package in March, and the House approved a $29 billion bill in May. The spending is for the remaining months of the federal budget year that ends Sept. 30.
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