- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

The House was set last night to pass the Republicans' vision for a Department of Homeland Security with the backing of President Bush, who said Democrats' competing version is unacceptable because it weakens his ability to manage the proposed department.
"I'm not going to accept legislation that limits or weakens the president's well-established authorities authorities to exempt parts of government from federal labor-management relations statutes when it serves our national interest," Mr. Bush said yesterday morning.
The White House said Thursday that the Democrats' bill, embodied in the Senate's version, would be vetoed if it reached the president's desk.
House Republicans, joined by a handful of Democrats, protected the basics of the president's plan by defeating a series of amendments to limit his managerial powers and expand whistleblower protections. The bill was expected to pass by a broad margin late last night.
The basic thrust of both Republican and Democratic proposals would transfer 170,000 government employees, constituting all or parts of 22 agencies, into the new department. It would control a budget of $38 billion a year.
All or parts of the Coast Guard, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Transportation Security Administration would be moved into the new department.
The bill includes a one-year extension on the deadline for airports to install new baggage-screening machines. But the House rejected an amendment to phase out the State Department's role in issuing visas.
Senate leaders, meanwhile, are struggling with a floor schedule for their bill.
The Senate bill limits the president's ability to restrict collective bargaining, requires a White House homeland security director to be confirmed by the Senate and restricts the president's ability to transfer funds among the new department's agencies.
Republicans and Democrats have bogged down over labor-relations issues a fact that "puzzled" Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and the author of the Senate plan that passed his Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday.
"Those differences and others will have to be aired, debated and resolved," Mr. Lieberman said. "But none of them ought to derail this legislation. It's not even close."
Both sides are trying to maintain existing protections. Democrats want to protect individual employees' union rights when they transfer to the new department. Republicans want the president's institutional power to limit those rights, if necessary, for national security.
House Democrats said the administration's stance is all about politics.
"This is a windmill Republicans are tilting at because they do not believe in collective bargaining," said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat.
But Mr. Bush said he isn't anti-union.
"I have great respect for the federal employees. I travel the country as one of them, talking about how we need to work together to protect the homeland," he said.
It took a full array of parliamentary powers available to House Republicans as the majority to deliver for the president a bill he could support.
On airport security, the House agreed to give airports that do not meet the Dec. 31 deadline for installing new baggage-screening machines a one-year extension.
Rep. James L. Oberstar, Minnesota Democrat, who wanted to retain the original deadline, called the matter the "only life-or-death vote we will consider in this legislation."
But Republicans said many airports simply won't be able to make the deadline and that an extension is just recognizing reality. "If we force machines into these airports that don't work as well as the machines that could be in place with a one-year extension, is the flying public safer? I don't think so," said Rep. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican.
The House overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would have completely phased out the State Department's role in issuing visas. All 19 September 11 hijackers entered the United States on visas, and three of them entered on the now-ended "Visa Express" program in Saudi Arabia.
"Deciding who we let into this country is arguably the most important homeland-security function of all," said Rep. Dave Weldon, Florida Republican. "Why leave this in the hands of diplomats?"
But opponents, including top Republicans, said the bill's compromise is good enough. It would strip the State Department of any discretion in issuing visas, transferring that to the Homeland Security Department, but would leave the administrative task of issuing the documents with State.
Senate leaders are struggling to find a time to debate their bill, with Democratic leaders trying to finish work on a prescription-drugs bill first and with several other senators saying they may slow down the process.
One of those is Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who wants to make sure congressional authority and oversight are protected.
"What I'm afraid of is that, while we are reorganizing the government here in a great hurry, that we are going to reorganize the checks and balances in the Constitution," Mr. Byrd said this week. "That may not matter to the administration, but it does matter to many of us here in the legislative branch."
Some other senators, though, said the Senate should proceed quickly and return to the president's original bill. Sens. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican; Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican; and Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, introduced a bill yesterday reflecting Mr. Bush's initial proposal as a way to show support for the president.
"The only way we will prevail against this enemy is to unite, support our commander in chief in a time of war and enact this plan," Mr. Miller said. "The more we bicker and stall, the more we become a sitting duck for the next round."


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