- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Senate and House leaders yesterday promised to keep their members in session for as long as it takes to pass homeland security legislation, even though there was no sign that the two sides are any closer to ending a five-week impasse in the Senate.

"If it isn't passed, we're just going to stay until the election, and then we'll be right back right after the election," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said the House will follow the Senate's lead.

"If we have to come back one day a week to be in session to make sure that we are here, so that we can finish our work if the Senate does their work on homeland security, we will do that," Mr. Hastert told reporters yesterday morning.

But Senate Republicans said they don't believe Mr. Daschle will follow through on his pledge. They accused him of scuttling their latest compromise offer and said he's just trying to avoid blame for the bill not being passed.

"I think their intent is not to acknowledge they're killing this bill, and certainly not to pass a bill, but to keep it in limbo so they won't have to take credit for killing the bill and they won't have to put their members to a tough vote," said Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican.

The administration is seeking flexibility in hiring and firing the 170,000 workers in the proposed Department of Homeland Security. It also wants to retain existing authority to suspend collective bargaining rights for employees, a power it deems essential for national security. But Democrats oppose those moves and want to create an appeals process for workers.

The Senate has made almost no progress since debate began on the bill after Labor Day. Republicans, joined by Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, have blocked five efforts to end the debate, arguing that it would prevent an up-or-down vote on the president's plan, which they believe they would win.

On Tuesday, senators stopped debating the bill altogether. They are scheduled to spend next week debating policy toward Iraq. That leaves no scheduled time for returning to the homeland security measure before Congress adjourns Oct. 11.

President Bush, meanwhile, made another strong plea for the legislation yesterday, telling an Hispanic Heritage Month gathering of Republicans that he will accept nothing less than the flexibility he has sought.

"The Senate must understand that I have a duty not only to protect the American people, but a duty to protect the prerogatives of the president," Mr. Bush said. "If it's good enough for the Department of Agriculture, if this authority is good enough for the employees of the Department of Education or [Health and Human Services], it certainly should be good enough for the Department of Homeland Security."

Mr. Daschle said Democrats have their own "bona fide" offer on the table that covers 80 to 90 percent of what the administration wants.

"It's down really to two things: Should you have a right to belong to a union? And if you're fired, should some independent board have a chance to review why you were fired? That's really what we're talking about here. I can't imagine that those two things are so consequential to the administration that they wouldn't accept them," Mr. Daschle said.

But Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, said Democrats are placing union rights above national security.

"Senator Daschle is very worried about it politically. They don't want to offend a major constituency, but on the other hand, they don't want to get blamed for no bill," he said.

Even if a homeland security bill is passed, House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, warned yesterday that without passing any more spending bills the new department would be left "with very little resources to carry out its new mission."

In a letter to Mr. Hastert, Mr. Young wrote that the president requested about $40 billion in new funds for homeland security for fiscal 2003, which began Oct. 1. But Congress hasn't passed any of the 13 spending bills for 2003, and members are considering passing long-term "continuing resolutions" to keep the government running mostly at 2002 spending levels.

Hospitals, diplomatic security, local law enforcement, the Coast Guard, FBI and Border Patrol would all be left without money they had hoped to use to expand security efforts, Mr. Young said. He also said the Transportation Security Administration, which expected to have a $5.3 billion budget, would be stuck with the $1.5 billion 28 percent of the agency's request it got appropriated last year.

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