- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

A Senate panel yesterday passed a bill for organizing the proposed Department of Homeland Security and prepared it for the full Senate's approval, expected next week.

But the move drew a rebuke from the White House, which threatened to veto the bill because it constrains the president's ability to manage the new agency.

"The president remains hopeful and optimistic that these provisions can be fixed without a veto. But he does feel strongly about it," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters traveling with the president to North Carolina.

"He will receive a recommendation from his advisers to veto this if [his] concerns are not addressed," Mr. Fleischer said.

Later yesterday, in a speech in North Carolina, Mr. Bush outlined those concerns, although he did not use the word "veto."

"I just want to make sure that Congress understands that when we do this department, I've got to have the ability to manage the department in a way to make the homeland more secure," Mr. Bush said. "I'm not interested in something big. I'm interested in something that works."

But Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said his bill contains 90 percent of what the president wants, and said he doesn't foresee the president carrying through on a veto.

"I take the veto threat by Ari Fleischer as an expression of a desire to work together to eliminate the small percentage of parts of our bill that don't totally coincide with the president's desire," he said.

"I cannot believe that if we pass this bill with the urgent need to build a strong Homeland Security Department the president would veto it because of our refusal to accept certain personnel matters he attached to the bill," Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Bush is staking out his position fairly early in the battle to write the largest reorganization of American government since World War II, and his stance provides a boost for Republicans' preferred proposal, which is expected to pass the House today.

The basic thrust of both Republican and Democratic proposals would establish the Department of Homeland Security, and transfer 170,000 government employees across more than 20 agencies into the new department.

The Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration all would be moved into the new department.

The House bill, though, gives the president most of the managerial flexibility he asked for in his initial proposal including preserving his prerogative to eliminate collective bargaining rights of employees if he determines those rights conflict with national security concerns, and the ability to transfer some money within the department to bolster agencies. It also preserves the president's ability to structure his own Office of Homeland Security in the White House as he wants.

The Senate bill lacks the same spending authority, would limit his right to pre-empt collective bargaining rights, and would force him to submit his domestic security adviser for Senate confirmation.

The House bill was written by a special committee last week and passed on a party-line vote. A final vote is scheduled on the floor today. Mr. Lieberman's bill passed his committee yesterday essentially as he wrote it by a vote of 12-5. Five Republicans opposed it, but three Republicans voted with the nine Democrats to support it.

Mr. Lieberman said Democrats are ready to fight for their employee-management provisions.

"There's very strong feeling in our caucus, it's fair to say, that the additional power the president seeks over federal employees in this new department is not necessary, certainly not at this time as we begin the life of this department," he said. "It's a marginal question, it's not at the center of what's necessary to protect the security of the American people."

But Republicans said the beginning of the department is exactly the time when the president should have flexibility, and they said the Senate bill would leave the president with less authority over department employees' bargaining rights than if the department had never been created.

Several of the Senate Republicans who voted for the bill in committee said those management issues must be resolved before they will support the bill on the floor.

"If you want the president to get the job done, he can't do it with the bill as is," said Sen. George V. Voinovich, Ohio Republican.

As the two bills proceed to floor votes, both chambers anticipate the same debates to be repeated.

House Democrats will offer amendments to make the bill resemble the Senate proposal, while Senate Republicans will try to shape their bill to resemble the House version.

House Republicans said they remain committed to giving the president something he can work with.

"What we're going to try to deliver is an agency that can be managed," said Rep. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican and one of the nine members of the select committee that constructed the House bill. "As I see the Senate proposal, it says: 'Here Mr. President, here's 18 or 22 agencies, here they are, good luck.'"

Mr. Bush has threatened to veto bills before but has never actually done so. Often however, as with the emergency military spending bill, the threat was enough to persuade Congress to rewrite the bill to his satisfaction.

But on the other hand, Mr. Bush also has signed several pieces of legislation, such as the campaign finance regulations bill, that contained provisions he had said were anathema to him. The president also has signed bills that Congress stripped of provisions he had said were important to him as with the education bill, which had no provisions for school vouchers.

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