- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Pushing forward in the midst of a GOP honeymoon period, the still-Democratic Senate is poised to hand President Bush a major victory on homeland security. The biggest factor driving the Democrats to cave on the president's pet initiative can be summed up in two words: Max Cleland.

Saxby Chambliss is the senator-elect from Georgia primarily because of a brutal television ad that thrashed Mr. Cleland for voting against amendments on homeland security legislation. At least several Senate Democrats are loathe to maintain their position outside the mainstream of public opinion, and Tom Daschle is helping to speed the process along because, in the words of one GOP leadership aide, "He doesn't feel like having the guillotine cut through his neck during a long, drawn-out lame-duck session."

The biggest loser in the new compromise is Big Labor, which prodded Mr. Daschle to scuttle a more union-friendly compromise that had been reached in the closing days before the election. Minority Leader Trent Lott had hashed out a compromise with Sens. Lincoln Chafee and Ben Nelson on the labor issues that had proved the main stumbling block. But in the last week before the recess, Mr. Daschle killed the compromise, fearing that siding with the president would depress union support and turnout.

Mr. Lott and bill sponsors Sens. Phil Gramm and Zell Miller were willing to give the Democrats the so-called Morella provision (which gave employees in the new department stronger union protections) for an 18-24 month period the time during which workers would be switching over to the Department of Homeland Security. Such a deal would have been a victory for the unions in a post-September 11 world, a sign that Big Labor still had clout even in the face of strong political pressure to move swiftly on national security issues not to mention an extra 18-24 months to lobby for an extension of the transition time.

But after decisive victories last week most notably Mr. Chambliss over Mr. Cleland Senate Republicans were no longer feeling charitable. Senate Democrats still need some cover in order to support the president without completely ticking off their base, but the best they're going to get now is a mini-fig leaf. The White House will be getting pretty much every major structural reform the president wants, and the best Democrats can offer Big Labor is a seat at the table when regulations are written.

The only significant remaining GOP concession from the pre-election compromise that Senate Democrats could salvage was a mediation clause. Before any proposed regulations can take effect, the secretary of homeland security must meet with unions for a 30-day consultation period, and if differences still remain, the parties (just the secretary and the unions) enter into a 30-day mediation period. However, because mediation is not binding, the secretary can simply do at the end of the 60-day period what he intended to do from the beginning. For example, if the secretary proposes five changes, but works out deals with the unions only on three of them, the secretary can still implement the outstanding two changes as initially proposed.

Even though the House is voting soon to pass the compromise bill, the Senate has to clear several parliamentary hurdles before voting on final passage. Sen. Bob Byrd still plans to throw up every possible procedural roadblock, meaning the earliest a bill could pass in the Senate is Friday, but the safe money is on early next week.

There is still a chance that homeland security legislation will languish until December, but that's only if 41 Democrats forge a Quixotic not to mention suicidal mission to filibuster the compromise. Strongly discouraging that move would be Sen. Mary Landrieu, the only senator who still has to face the voters this year in a runoff on Dec. 7. She badly wants political cover in conservative Louisiana, because a Cleland-style attack could very well stick to a first-termer who cast the same votes as the soon-to-be former senator from Georgia.

The battles over the exact mission and focus of the new Department of Homeland Security are far from over. Beyond the almost-assured creation of the new department during the lame-duck session, there is bound to be lots of intra-party squabbling over which agency does what, and what policy changes must be ushered in to truly empower the new department to shore up our national security.

At this point, only two things are for sure. There will be a new Department of Homeland Security, and President Bush has just extended his impressive winning streak.

Joel Mowbray is a reporter for the National Review and a contributing editor for National Review Online. E-mail: jdmowbra@erols.com.

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