Anti-terror legislation sailed through the House as the first in a string of measures designed to fulfill campaign promises made by Democrats last fall.
Patterned on recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the far-reaching measure includes commitments for inspection of all cargo carried aboard passenger aircraft and on ships bound for the US.
The vote was a bipartisan 299-128.
"Our first and highest duty as members of this Congress is to protect the American people, to defend our homeland and to strengthen our national security," said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.
Several Republicans criticized the legislation as little more than political posturing in the early hours of a new Democratic controlled Congress. Democrats want to "look aggressive on homeland security. This bill will waste billions of dollars, and possibly harm homeland security by gumming up progress already under way," said Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican.
In a written statement, the Bush administration listed several objections and said it could not support the measure as drafted but stopped short of threatening to veto the legislation.
Democrats have pledged to make fiscal responsibility a priority in the new Congress, but they advanced the bill -- their first of the year -- without even a bare-bones accounting of the estimated cost. The funding will require follow-up legislation.
Legislation introduced in the Senate a year ago to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 commission had a price tag of more than US$53 billion over five years.
The terrorism legislation is the first of six measures the House is expected to pass in its first 100 hours in session under Democratic control.
Next up is an increase in the minimum wage -- set for passage on yesterday -- followed by relaxation of the limits on stem cell research conducted with federal funds and a measure directing the administration to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices for Medicare recipients.
Next week, the Democrats intend to clear legislation to cut the interest rate on student loans and to curtail tax breaks for the energy industry.
Each of the six bills would go to the Senate, and it could be months -- if then -- before they reach the White House.
Already, US President George W. Bush has signaled he would veto the stem cell bill, which is opposed by abortion foes. House supporters of the measure con-ceded at a news conference during the day that they do not have the two-thirds support needed to override a veto.
Depending on the outcome of that struggle, said Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, "400,000 embryos will either be wasted or utilized to cure a disease."
The House labored over the terrorism bill as the Senate began work on legislation enacting stricter ethics rules -- and Democrats continued to gain from last fall's elections.
Officials said that four of Bush's controversial appeals court appointees, their chances for confirmation doomed in the Democrat-controlled Senate, would not be renominated.
The four are William Haynes, William Myers, Terrence Boyle and Michael Wallace, all of whom were prevented from coming to votes last year when the Senate was under Republican control.
"The president is disappointed in this inaction and hopes that the days of judicial obstructionism are beyond us," said Dana Perino, deputy White House spokeswoman.
Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat of New York, saw it differently.
"Democrats stand ready to work with the administration to confirm judges who are not extremists, either left or right," he said.
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