Los Angeles Times

Paul Wong
President Bush urges Americans to begin flying again and ask governors of every state to call up the National Guard to help with airport security at O”Hare International Airport in Chicago yesterday.<br><br>AP PHOTO

CHICAGO President Bush urged Americans yesterday to “get on board” the nation”s airlines and “enjoy life,” and called for armed National Guard patrols at airports to quell the public”s fears about security.

But as Bush outlined new security measures at an upbeat rally on the O”Hare Airport tarmac, debate rumbled among members of Congress over whether he is going far enough in using the government”s power to guarantee safety.

Senior Democrats said uniformed federal officers should carry out passenger and baggage screening. They called for a $3-per-ticket fee to permanently finance a new air security service that would be similar to U.S. Customs. For his part, Bush is proposing higher standards and closer federal oversight for private guards hired by the airlines.

“We”re being offered half a loaf on this critical part of security on our airlines,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

“This is a bedrock responsibility,” added Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.). “The most basic responsibility of government is to protect its citizens against acts of war.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which is also calling for federal officers at security checkpoints, announced yesterday that Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn would head a new task force to lobby Congress and the administration on the issue.

Bush authorized federal funding, estimated at $100 million to $150 million, to states whose governors choose to temporarily deploy the National Guard to augment security at commercial airports until his security program is fully implemented. That could take four to six months, the White House estimated.

One key element of the president”s initiative is a significant and permanent expansion of the Federal Air Marshals program. Armed plainclothes officers will be present but unannounced on many flights. Previously, marshals flew on only a handful of flights.

Authorities declined to disclose the number of marshals who would be deployed, to keep would-be hijackers guessing. But a senior administration official said the marshals” ranks have grown steadily since the attacks, adding, “that number is increasing by the day.”

The president”s plan also calls for a $500-million fund to help airlines fortify cockpits against intruders and make other improvements. The money can be used to equip cockpits with video monitors to alert pilots of disturbances in the passenger cabin “so our pilots will always be in command of the airplanes,” Bush said. Another change includes aircraft transponders identification beacons that cannot be switched off. Bush also called for research into remote devices that could allow a pilot on the ground to take back control of an airliner from a hijacker.

Bush went to Chicago not only to announce the new security measures, but to underscore his message that Americans have a patriotic duty to return to their routines, even while they remain vigilant about safety.

When the terrorists struck on Sept. 11, “they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear,” Bush said. “And one of the great goals of this nation”s war is to restore public confidence in the airline industry.

“It”s to tell the traveling public: Get on board! Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America”s great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”

Bush”s appearance was all but devoid of the somber, funereal ambience of many of the other post-attack events that Bush has attended.

The president did not address the widespread layoffs in the airline industry, nor Democratic attempts in Congress to craft a relief package for the jobless.

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