- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 3, 2001

Americans will have to wait at least a week and probably much longer before Congress comes up with a plan to make U.S. airports safer. The head of the Federal Aviation Agency said yesterday that until then, "we've got to stay particularly vigilant."

The Republican-controlled House on Thursday night passed its own aviation security plan instead of sending a Senate plan to President Bush for approval, throwing the issue to what is expected to be a contentious House-Senate conference committee. That could mean the issue's doom.

"My greatest fear is that if it goes to a conference, it never comes out," said House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat.

Mr. Bush told reporters yesterday that the White House was "prepared to take an active role" in nudging the bill along. "I believe the differences are small, and I believe they can be reconciled quickly," Mr. Bush said.

The House passed its version of the aviation security package by a 286-139 vote instead of the bill passed by the Senate 100-0 on Oct. 11, the one-month anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon terror attacks.

"The need for the bill is now, and it's very urgent," FAA chief Jane Garvey said on ABC's "Good Morning America." In the meantime, "We've got to stay particularly vigilant with the airlines and make sure that in the interim those screening checkpoints are being manned as they should."

The Senate bill failed to get through the House by a 218-214 vote. Had the Democratic bill passed, it would have gone directly to the president for his signature.

"I sat with the president today, and he said he is willing to wait for us to get it right," said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican.

Battle lines over the legislation were drawn immediately.

House Republicans said senators should have followed Mr. Bush's lead instead of quickly churning out their own bill, and called the Senate measure flawed and hastily written.

"I was amazed to find that the Senate said, in a unified voice, 'No, Mr. President, we know better. You must do it our way,'" said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.

Senators and their House supporters were just as adamant about their measure.

"I urge conferees to strip out the special-interest provisions and send the Senate measure to the president," Mr. Gephardt said after the vote. "That is the only way to ensure that American air travelers will see increased security in our airports as soon as possible."

The Republican bill puts the government in control of the training and supervision of airport baggage screeners but allows the president to decide whether screeners should be public or private employees.

"Tough new standards will turn out to be toothless if President Bush is denied the flexibility to demand rigid accountability," House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said before the vote.

House Republicans insist that a compromise with the Senate can be worked out swiftly.

Rep. Greg Ganske, Iowa Republican, feels differently. "I'm less than optimistic that we are going to have a very speedy conference," he said. "I just pray we don't have another aviation disaster" before a deal is reached.

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