- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay yesterday threatened to call the House back to Washington if Senate Democrats stripped Republican-backed provisions from the homeland security bill.
The Texas Republican accused Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, of "obstruction" in the face of a Nov. 5 electoral mandate for President Bush's policy.
"The president's position twice attracted broad, bipartisan House majorities. By thwarting the new Homeland Security Department, Daschle's continued obstruction ignores the American people's unmistakable demand to grant President Bush the authority to strengthen the country," Mr. DeLay said.
Senate Democrats want to delete from the House bill provisions that, among other things, would protect vaccine makers against lawsuits.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, announced yesterday that he would vote with Democrats to strip the long-delayed bill of the provisions.
"We think it is a poor way of doing business, by putting the provisions in at the 11th hour without proper deliberation," said McCain spokesman Marshall Wittmann.
One Senate aide said yesterday that Republicans probably still will have enough votes to defeat the move by Democrats, even without Mr. McCain.
Mr. Bush yesterday lobbied Senate Democrats, including Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, to support the version of the bill passed by the Republican-controlled House.
Republicans are seeking votes from other Senate Democrats, including Sen. John B. Breaux of Louisiana and Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, and are hopeful of the support of Sen. Dean Barkley of Minnesota, an independent appointed to complete the term of the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone.
Democrats stalled the bill for months by insisting on union protections for the 170,000 employees of the 22-agency department that the bill would create. Republicans scored key victories in the Nov. 5 congressional elections by accusing Democrats of favoring their labor union supporters at the expense of national security.
Democrats retain control of the Senate until January, but Mr. Bush is pressuring the 107th Congress to pass legislation establishing the department before it adjourns.
"This remains the highest priority for this lame-duck Congress," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We would hope that there would not be action taken that could stop this bill from getting done."
Mr. Bush personally called at least two senators yesterday, including undecided Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, to ask him to oppose the Democratic changes, said the senator's spokesman, David DiMartino. Mr. Nelson helped break a two-month stalemate over the legislation last week by saying he would support it.
Also making calls were Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge and Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
The White House lobbying comes just days after another brushfire broke out on the homeland security bill a Democrat-originated provision that has been called "a supersnoop's dream."
Language tucked inside the House-passed bill would let the federal government track anybody's e-mail, Internet use, travel, credit-card purchases, phone and bank records in its hunt for terrorists. The Defense Department's Total Information Awareness program would combine this privately held information with every type of available public data for what the Pentagon describes as one "centralized grand database."
The House passed the homeland security bill in a 299-121 vote last week and adjourned Friday, but Mr. DeLay said he would bring members back to Washington to defend the Republican bill. He called the vote on the bill one of the most important decisions Congress had made in decades.
In January, Mr. DeLay will become House majority leader and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, will step down as minority leader, handing that title to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. Mr. Daschle will become Senate minority leader as Republicans take control because of gains in the Nov. 5 elections.
"The soon-to-be Senate minority leader should follow the lead of the soon-to-be House minority leader and accept the clear and unambiguous message sent by the voters two Tuesdays ago," Mr. DeLay said.
Democrats said they will not accept the bill with provisions they call "pork," simply because the House does not want to return from recess. If the Senate changes the bill, it would require a conference committee to work out the differences, extending the lame-duck session into the holiday season.
"I really think we would be doing the president, Congress and the country a favor by adopting this amendment and sending this bill to the House and let them handle the bill the way they will," said Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and assistant majority leader.
Senate Democrats have targeted seven provisions they hope to eliminate, including one barring lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies for vaccinations that cause side effects.
The American Trial Lawyers Association representing lawyers who reap millions of dollars in fees from lucrative civil lawsuits is a major contributor to Democrats, giving more than $2 million in the 2002 campaigns. Lawyers and law firms donated nearly $45 million overall to Democrats in the past two years.
Republicans say lawsuit protection is needed to enable companies to produce vaccines to protect Americans from biological terrorist attacks. Instead of litigation, a special compensation fund has been established for families suffering from side effects.
"We're trying to make sure the trial lawyers don't have the chance to sue those who are trying to protect Americans from smallpox. Any other interpretation is irrelevant," said a Republican leadership aide.
Democrats also want to strip liability protections for airport security companies and "negligent manufacturers."
Government contracts with U.S. companies that have relocated overseas to avoid taxes would be barred in one amendment, and another would make it easier for the Transportation Security Agency to issue security regulations.
An earmark for a research center project for Texas A&M; University would be eliminated. A rule waiving the Federal Advisory Committee Act to allow the Homeland Security Department to hold secret meetings with industry representatives also would be eliminated.
"Does this have anything at all to do with homeland security? The answer is no," Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, said last week.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.


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