- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

President Bush, capitalizing on the Republicans' historic victory in last week's congressional elections, yesterday won the battle with the Democrat-controlled Senate over his plan to create a Department of Homeland Security.
Senate Democrats led by John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska signed off on a White House-backed proposal, which is expected to pass overwhelmingly in the House and Senate, where it has been bogged down for weeks.
"No one wants to be on record opposing homeland security," a Senate Republican leadership aide said of Mr. Bush's plan to consolidate more than 100 federal agencies into one umbrella department to oversee the security of Americans.
The revised bill is expected to pass the House today, but procedural hurdles will slow the bill in the Senate. The leadership aide said Republicans hoped it would receive a vote by Friday, but it could be tied up until early next week.
The breakthrough came after Republican congressional leaders met at the White House yesterday with Mr. Bush, who has made its passage the top priority of the lame-duck session.
Mr. Bush opened the meeting by telling the lawmakers they should "see the election for what it was" and get working quickly on homeland security and terrorism insurance, said a senior White House official.
The White House last night voiced cautious optimism.
"We remain hopeful that Congress will get legislation to the president before they leave," Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said.
With nearly 75 percent of Americans supporting the creation of a Homeland Security Department a key factor in the 2002 elections, in which Republicans bucked decades-old trends and picked up seats in both congressional chambers Democrats capitulated.
Now that Republicans will take over the Senate, Mr. Breaux and Mr. Nelson, along with liberal Republican Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, saw the inevitability of the department's creation.
"In the end, most members of the Senate want to pass homeland security," said the three senators, who conceded the Republican takeover of the Senate puts the party in a superior negotiating position.
"We will vote for this proposal when it reaches the Senate floor," they said in a joint statement last night.
Their shift gives supporters of the Homeland Security Department 52 votes, a majority in the 100-member Senate.
One senior Bush administration official said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle gave up his opposition because he didn't want a prolonged fight over what he now sees as a lost cause.
"With the president's wins last week in the House and the Senate, he now knows this is a big-time loser," the official said.
Ranit Schmelzer, spokesman for Mr. Daschle, said the senator believes the measure's worker protections do not go far enough, but he would bring the bill to the Senate floor because the new department is needed. She said the bill appears to have enough votes to pass the Senate.
Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, had used parliamentary procedures before the election to put the biggest roadblocks in front of the new department. Aides to Mr. Byrd did not know last night whether he would try to slow passage of the legislation.
The president's proposal, passed this summer by the House, has been bottled up for months in the Democrat-controlled Senate, which wanted to prevent the president from suspending some bureaucratic job protection for the 170,000 employees of the planned department.
The president's proposed legislation calls for the creation of an umbrella department to combine more than 100 federal agencies from 22 departments, including the Border Patrol, Secret Service and Coast Guard.
Mr. Bush demanded the power to suspend certain job-protection benefits for federal employees if they stood in the way of protecting Americans. He wants to be able to exempt unionized workers from time-consuming collective-bargaining agreements and bypass civil service rules in promoting, firing and transferring workers.
"The enemy moves quickly, and America must move quickly," Mr. Bush said in a speech earlier yesterday at the District's Metropolitan Police Department Operations Center. "To meet the threats, I must be able and future presidents must be able to move people and resources where they're needed, and to do it quickly, without being forced to comply with a thick book of rules."
Much of the language remains in flux but the compromise was summarized on a one-sheet briefing paper.
The proposal contains a national-security waiver that retains the president's discretion to exempt agencies and subdivisions from collective bargaining when it conflicts with the president's ability to protect homeland security. However, the president is required to notify Congress of his reasons for exercising this authority 10 days before it takes effect.
Under the new proposal, unions must get 30 days' advance notice, would have an opportunity to object and could take their case to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. But if no agreement is reached, the department could carry out its initial intentions, aides said.
In a nod to Democrats, the legislation would require the department to negotiate any workplace changes with the employees union and require federal mediation if no agreement was reached. But in the end, the department could make whatever changes it wanted flexibility that administration officials have argued they will need.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide