- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Sen. Robert C. Byrd delivered a broad criticism of President Bush's proposal for a new Department of Homeland Security yesterday on the Senate floor, arguing that the transition would create a big bureaucracy and could open a window of opportunity for terrorists.

"Amid all of this upheaval we run the risk of creating gaps in our homeland defenses," the West Virginia Democrat said.

Mr. Byrd is one of several senators who have called for a "go-slow" approach on the bill. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, fearing a filibuster, has put off consideration of the homeland security bill until the end of this week.

"We're all talking about this in the privacy of our offices, behind the closed doors of elevators and in our hideaways, but we ought to come out onto the Senate floor and discuss it before the American people," Mr. Byrd said. "We are rushing ahead to pass legislation, which many of us think is bad policy."

That means the bill will be the pending business during the August recess, but Republicans said the issue also makes it unlikely Congress will have a bill finalized until late September, after a self-imposed deadline of Sept. 11.

Yesterday, the White House criticized the delay.

"The president wishes that the Senate would have been able to get to that this week. Perhaps they will change their minds," said spokesman Ari Fleischer. "But the president is disappointed in the postponement of homeland security in the Senate."

However, Mr. Daschle said it's not a big deal.

"I don't think it does anybody a disservice to actually read what it is we're voting on, to prepare amendments if they have some disagreements," he said. "Senator Byrd and others are suggesting that they may support in the end the proposal, but they want more care, more attention, more careful consideration given to a proposal of this magnitude. And frankly, I don't think that's too much to ask."

The proposed department would consolidate all or parts of 22 existing federal agencies, would include 170,000 employees and would control a yearly budget of $38 billion.

Mr. Byrd said he fears giving away congressional oversight in the push to approve the department and said he also doesn't believe the administration can meet its pledge to create the new department without increasing spending.

"It is going to require the investment of real money your money. It cannot be done with the kind of creative accounting gimmicks that you might expect to find at Halliburton Company and Harken Energy Corporation," Mr. Byrd said. "When the White House makes these kinds of ridiculous comments about long-term savings, the Congress and the American people better get ready, because the White House has something up its sleeve."

Mr. Daschle would not concede that Sept. 11 was an unreachable deadline, but House Republicans have said that if the Senate bill isn't finished, there's no final product to put against the House bill, which passed 295-132 late Friday night, right before members left for their August recess.

The Senate bill passed the Governmental Affairs Committee 12-5 last week but with several key differences from the House version. The Senate measure includes new protections for civil servants and would make the director of Homeland Security, the White House's advisory position, subject to Senate confirmation.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said that getting the bill finished is an imperative.

"What if we leave town and then in August we have some terrorist attack? Some disaster that could have been prevented if we had people, money focus in an appropriate way?" Mr. Lott said. "That's unacceptable. To me this is an emergency."

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