- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The Senate ended a months-long standoff over the homeland security bill yesterday, passing legislation to reorganize into one central department most of the federal agencies that defend the nation's borders and interior.
The final bill, which closely follows the proposal sent to Congress by President Bush in June, passed the Senate yesterday 90-9, but only after the chamber narrowly turned back Democratic leaders' last attempt to amend the bill. Eight Democrats and one independent voted against the overall bill.
Senators were facing the twin demands of the looming adjournment of the 107th Congress and the insistence of the president, riding high after the midterm elections, that Congress finish the bill.
"We're making great progress in the war on terror. Part of that progress will be the ability for us to protect the American people at home," Mr. Bush told Republican senators in a congratulatory call yesterday from Air Force One. "This is a very important piece of legislation."
Mr. Bush, who is on his way to a NATO summit in the Czech Republic, told incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and other Republican senators that the bill is "landmark in its scope."
Although the new department was originally proposed by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, and opposed by the president, the debate about the department became a political liability for the Democrats, who lost control of the Senate.
A standoff about the collective-bargaining rights of workers in the new department stalled the bill. Stumping in state after state in the final weeks of the campaign, Mr. Bush accused the Democrats of valuing the political support of labor unions over national security, and several incumbent Democratic lawmakers including Sens. Jean Carnahan of Missouri and Max Cleland of Georgia were defeated.
Mr. Bush and backers of his homeland security bill called the Republican victory a mandate from voters to give the president what he wants.
"I don't think it would have happened at this particular time if it had not been for the president and if it had not been for the people speaking as loudly as they did in the election," said Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, who had been one of the president's staunchest supporters throughout.
"It was obvious from the way they voted they wanted us to come up with a homeland security bill, and they wanted us to come up with it as soon as we could," Mr. Miller said.
The bill's fate was wrapped up yesterday afternoon with the votes against the Democrats' final amendment efforts. The vote was 52-47, with three Democrats and one independent joining all but one Republican in opposing the bid to delete from the bill several provisions Democrats called handouts to special interests.
Republicans pointed out that the amendments would have made the Senate bill different from the version passed by the House last week, jeopardizing the bill passed during the lame-duck session as demanded by Mr. Bush, flush with the historic Republican victories in this month's midterm election.
"We have defeated the Daschle-Lieberman amendment, and when you wake up in the morning you will have the authority you need to protect the American people at home," Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, told Mr. Bush in the Air Force One conference call.
The bill must still gain pro forma approval from the House one last time before Mr. Bush can sign it into law.
Sixty days after he signs the bill, 170,000 employees and 22 existing agencies, including the U.S. Border Patrol, Coast Guard and Secret Service, will be consolidated into a Department of Homeland Security.
Even after the new department is established, it will take months to set up and because Congress did not pass most of its appropriations bills, many of the proposed changes will remain unfunded until next year.
"This is just the first step in a long journey," said Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican. "This thing is going to have to be dealt with for a long time, time and time again. There's going to have to be adjustments and changes over the next few years as we try to get this thing right from an organizational standpoint. It's going to take a while for the budget process to kick in."
Still, some Democrats were upset at the way Republicans controlled the process after their election success.
"Normally, it takes a number of months for arrogance to set in. Here it appears to be settling in even before they've taken control," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, Connecticut Democrat.
"The idea you can throw on provisions on a homeland security bill that have nothing to do with homeland security and jam them through and leave town is very troubling to me when you're talking about a bipartisanship and a better working environment."
The bill's passage was in doubt even yesterday morning, as Democrats tried to secure backing for an amendment to strip seven provisions they said Republicans stuck in the bill to appease special interests.
Among the provisions were ones Democrats said would earmark a research center for Texas A&M; University, that would protect pharmaceutical companies from existing lawsuits about side effects from child vaccines and that would gut language in the bill that prohibits companies that have fled overseas to avoid U.S. tax rules from bidding on the new department's contracts.
"This language, these additions to the bill, added at the 11th hour, is arrogance is an atrocious demeaning of the legislative process," said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
Republican senators held a caucus for more than an hour yesterday morning to talk the issue through and stem defections. Mr. Lott, who will soon control the floor schedule when he becomes majority leader for the next Congress, promised the senators he would change those provisions early next year.
As senators filed into the chamber to vote, Mr. Lott was in a rear cloakroom phoning House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who was on an airplane, traveling to Turkey. The two agreed the first appropriations bill to pass next year will contain adjustments to the homeland security bill.
Mr. Lott relayed that to several wavering senators Republicans Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, and to Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
Mr. Nelson said that without that assurance, the amendment probably would have passed and the bill would have stalled. Appointing a conference to work out differences with the House could have taken the matter into next year, Republicans said.

Amy Fagan contributed to this report.


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