- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

As he criss-crossed the country on behalf of Republican candidates in the waning days of the campaign, President Bush repeatedly emphasized the importance of Senate passage of his proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Bush's forceful criticism of the Senate's failure to join the House (which voted overwhelmingly in September to approve a clean homeland security bill ) played a key role in the defeat of two incumbent Senate Democrats Max Cleland of Georgia and Jean Carnahan of Missouri. Their successful Republican challengers, Rep. Saxby Chambliss in Georgia and former Rep. Jim Talent in Missouri, made Mr. Cleland and Mrs. Carnahan's failure to cooperate with the president on this issue central features of their campaigns in final weeks before the election.

In the wake of the Republicans' remarkable showing at the polls, the president has continued to drive home the point that it's time for the Senate Democrats and Republicans to join the House in passing a homeland security bill he can sign.

Ever since Sept. 4, when the Senate took up the homeland security bill being pushed by Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Majority Leader Tom Daschle, that chamber has been the major stumbling block to passage of reform legislation. The problem has remained the same: The Democratic Senate, acting with the support of powerful unions like the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union, has attempted to force Mr. Bush to choose between two alternatives. He would sign homeland security legislation that would have stripped him of powers that every president since Jimmy Carter has had codified in law to exempt from union control Homeland Security Department employees working in sensitive national security-related areas. Or, he would get no bill at all.

Before the election, supporters of Mr. Bush, led by Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, and Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat the only Senate Democrat to break with his party's leadership and side with Mr. Bush on the issue sought in vain to work out a compromise with Democrats Sens. Benjamin Nelson and John Breaux (negotiating on behalf of Mr. Daschle) and the lone Republican not to support Mr. Bush: Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee. As the two sides neared agreement on the issue, however, Mr. Daschle and the unions killed the deal. That was before the election.

After the Republican victory at the polls, Mr. Daschle and the unions appear to have relented somewhat, and serious negotiations over a compromise resumed last weekend involving the Gramm-Miller and the Breaux-Nelson team. It is possible that a new compromise deal could reach the House floor today and the Senate floor by the end of the week.

Now, it is only a matter of time before this new department becomes a reality. The leading obstacle right now appears to be outgoing Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Byrd, a staunch opponent of Mr. Bush's homeland security bill, who may try to prevent it from being voted on just as he did the Iraq resolution last month. Mr. Byrd's office told The Washington Times yesterday that the senator has made no decision on this issue. It's time for Mr. Daschle to do what he did last month on Iraq: Move immediately to ensure that this essential piece of legislation is wrested from Mr. Byrd's clutches and voted on.

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