- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said yesterday that Senate Democrats are making "perverse" demands for union protections for employees of the proposed department in a time of war.
"We think it's a rather perverse set of circumstances," Mr. Ridge said. "Whereas the president would have national security authority as it relates to every other department in his Cabinet, at this time we are at war, [but] it would not apply to the new Department of Homeland Security."
As he spoke, Mr. Ridge was flanked by Cabinet members who wrote to Senate leaders urging them to approve the president's plan for a Department of Homeland Security.
But the bill remains stalled in the Senate, where Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, blamed Republicans for the delay.
"The Republicans have chosen to politicize this issue rather than resolve it," Mr. Daschle said. "They want to make homeland security an issue in the election. They don't want to get this done. And so they have a great campaign issue."
The Republican-led House approved the White House plan in July, giving Mr. Bush the flexibility to waive civil service status for some of the 170,000 employees if he deems it a matter of national security.
Under the Senate Democrats' proposal, Mr. Bush could waive union rights only if a worker's job changed substantially in the new agency and only if a majority of the workers in that unit were involved in anti-terrorism or intelligence work.
Republicans say Democrats are holding the department hostage because they won't buck their union base right before an election.
Mr. Ridge said Senate Democrats want to forbid Mr. Bush from excluding department members from collective-bargaining pacts. He said presidents since John F. Kennedy have had that flexibility in all federal agencies during national emergencies.
In the letter signed by all 14 Cabinet members, the administration urged Mr. Daschle and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi to adopt the White House plan.
"At this challenging time, we believe that the president's existing, government-wide authority to exclude unions from certain agencies in the interests of our national security should be preserved for this new department," the letter stated.
Mr. Lott said he has tried to work out a compromise with Democrats in recent weeks but was met with "an awful lot of stony silence in return."
"Senator Daschle and Democrats want to get this done, but they can't figure any way to do it without having to come to some agreement with the administration," Mr. Lott said. "This should not be about bureaucrat security."
Mr. Daschle said that he has offered the Republicans a vote on both competing proposals, but that Republicans rejected the idea because the Democrats have more votes for their alternative.
"Why, if they're so interested in having this resolved, would they not agree to the offer that they actually suggested to us a few weeks ago?" Mr. Daschle said. "We have the votes."
Mr. Lott said votes on each proposal would not end the delays.
"We shouldn't have to have two votes," Mr. Lott said. "We should have a vote on compromise language that is acceptable to both sides and get the bill done."
Immigration-control advocates, meanwhile, worry about the immigration provisions in any bill the Senate might produce.
Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said he worries that House members, anxious to return to their districts to campaign, could pass whatever comes out of the Senate without giving it proper scrutiny.
In particular, he said, the White House bill eliminates some of the changes to asylum law enacted in 1996 by encouraging the release of asylum-seekers as their applications are pending. Under the old system, he said, immigrants would file "bogus" applications for asylum and then flee into the country.
Still, immigration-control advocates say the Democratic bill would be even worse because it could overturn the administration's control of immigration policy and eliminate the attorney general's role in reviewing immigration judges' rulings.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


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