It has been hard not to be paralyzed by the sorrow of the loss we all experienced on September 11th. I admit that with the swells of anger and patriotism I have also felt a sense of helplessness that nothing that I – nor any public official – can do will undo the ravages of the terror attack. But I wanted to share my thoughts about some of the steps we have taken to honor the fallen while paying tribute to them and their families by working to ensure that we make America safer.
Caring for the families of the Victims. Among the earliest steps we in Congress took to address the economic fallout from the attack, was a $15 billion aid package to keep the airline industry flying. While I was not completely satisfied with this bill as it failed to offer help to the many airport workers and those already laid off, it did include an important fund for all the victims that would be quickly administered and unlimited. Families of those lost will be able to apply for a quick lump sum payment that will be decided on by a special “master” rather than an insurance company actuary.
Paying Tribute to the Uniformed Heroes. More so than ever before, we understand how lucky we are to call these brave souls our neighbors. To make sure that we care for the families of the many lost uniformed workers, I sponsored a provision of the recently passed anti-terrorism legislation that increases the federal emergency officer death benefit from $100,000 to $250,000. My amendment was retroactive to the 1st of the year, so the families of the “fathers day fire” will also benefit.
Curbing Terrorism While Protecting Our Rights. This is a time to revisit the way we have been chasing terrorists here and abroad. We need to arm our intelligence agencies with the tools they need to investigate and prevent terrorists threats. In particular, we need to make sure that the abuses in the student and visitor visa program are eliminated. But we also need to ensure that the rights of Arab Americans and all Americans who value their right to privacy are not trampled in the process. We will all need to be patient for more security at airports and even provide more funding to our spy agencies, but we must always remember that the way of life we are protecting is based in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Remembering Our True Allies. While the great struggle against terrorism will not be successful without the support of many other nations, we must remember that long before September 11th and since, our sole true ally in the Middle East has been Israel. Some have suggested that we capitulate to the terrorist’s wishes and abandon our commitment to the democratic and pluralistic principles that form our solid bond with Israel. The opposite is true – we should redouble our traditional cooperation to fight our common enemy. Today we have something else in common with Israel – both of our nations have seen our peoples murdered by suicide bombers. We must not allow this sad common bond be used as an excuse to divide our two countries.
Celebrating Our National Spirit. The enduring emotion from our national tragedy must not be sadness or fear. What unites us as a community and as a nation is our love of freedom and our belief that our many differences pale against our very American ideal of democracy and our respect for one another. Our civic groups and religious institutions rose out of the truest form of patriotism – the desire to leave a neighborhood, a city and a nation just a little better for our children than the one we found. Now, more than ever, we should recommit ourselves to civic life. As we rebuild our city and our lives, let us do it together.