- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 9, 2002

Republican congressional leaders yesterday agreed to push through President Bush's plan to create a Department of Homeland Security during next week's lame-duck session.

Incoming Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, were called to the White House for a strategy lunch with the president.

Mr. Lott initially said he is "not an advocate of lame-duck sessions" and that it would be a "huge effort" to complete the creation of the department this year, but he changed his stance after the meeting.

"The president of the United States is the leader of our country and he feels very strongly about this," Mr. Lott said, "and he feels that it is important that the Congress work to see if we could get this done, and I agree."

Mr. Hastert said next week is ripe for final passage of the bill, saying "the political games are over."

Mr. Bush told lawmakers it should not matter how long it takes to complete the legislation, and said he wants it done before the end of the year.

"They got a few days to get some big things done, and the most important thing to get done, I want to emphasize, is to get a Department of Homeland Security finished," Mr. Bush said.

Neither party leader was clear yesterday on who would be in charge of the Senate in the final days of the 107th Congress, but current Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said he is ready to move forward.

Creating the new department "is a very important bill that I would hope we could get done. And it doesn't matter whether Senator Lott is the majority leader or I'm the majority leader; we agree on those categories and we agree there's a lot that could be done in each of those," Mr. Daschle said.

"We want votes, and I will take votes win or lose, I'll take whatever votes we can get," Mr. Daschle said.

Democrats oppose a provision in the measure that denies union protections and allows employees to be fired. Mr. Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it contains those protections.

"We intend to work closely with the president when we think he is right. But I must say, we will stand up and fight for our principles when we think he is wrong," Mr. Daschle said.

The homeland security bill stalled Oct. 17 after six weeks of deadlock, with both sides blaming each other for lack of a compromise. The House passed its version in July, 295 to 132.

In a letter to Mr. Bush and Congress yesterday, the National League of Cities asked that homeland security be the top priority for Congress.

"As each day goes by, our sense of urgency grows as our needs for help with planning, training, staffing and equipment go unmet," said NLC President Karen Anderson.

"For 14 months, cities have stretched their very limited resources to meet the multiple new challenges of terrorism. The longer that needed federal investments in homeland security are postponed, the more hometown security is compromised," Miss Anderson said.

A report issued two weeks ago shows the United States remains "dangerously unprepared" to prevent future terrorist attacks because no efforts have been made to coordinate a response between federal and local authorities.

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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