- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle says he fears exempting the proposed Department of Homeland Security from civil service requirements could mean a return "to the bad old days when presidents could pick their political hacks and put them in government positions."
The South Dakota Democrat made his remarks yesterday in an interview on CNN's "Novak, Hunt & Shields" after being told Bush administration officials want to know why he is holding the homeland security bill "hostage to the government employees union."
"Well, I would say that they are the ones that are trying to bust the unions," Mr. Daschle said, referring to the administration.
The Senate Democratic leader added: "But it's not a question of unions. What we're trying to do is to absolutely ensure we don't go back to the bad ole days when presidents could pick their political hacks and put them in government positions. We don't want to do that. We think it's important for us to have accountability and to have some rules in place."
President Bush has made it clear he wants the flexibility to hire, fire and transfer the 170,000 employees needed for the proposed Homeland Security Department. But the bill that would create the huge new department has been stalled in the Senate for a month. Democrats are insisting that employees in that department should not lose their civil service protections and benefits.
Mr. Daschle said the firing of employees should be subject to review, if those terminated request it. "They [administration officials] don't want to do that. They want to get rid of the political accountability that we've had in law for a long time, so that we don't go back to the days when you could hire the hacks and put them in positions of political or government sensitivity," he said.
Some lawmakers are predicting the problems with the homeland security bill will not be resolved by Oct. 11, when the Senate plans to adjourn for this year.
Mr. Daschle also said he believes Congress should reconvene in a lame-duck session after the Nov. 5 congressional elections to pass a backlog of appropriations bills to keep the government running without the need for continuing resolutions. "I think we ought to come back," he said.
Both Mr. Daschle and Rep. Julia Carson of Indiana, who delivered the Democrats' weekly radio address yesterday, attempted to shift public attention from a possible war with Iraq to the weak economy, health care and other domestic issues they feel could help Democrats in the upcoming elections.
In a television interview last weekend, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said he believes the possibility of a military strike against Iraq has put key Democratic issues on the back burner.
But Mr. Daschle said yesterday he disagrees. In traveling around South Dakota, he said, he's found that people are less concerned about Iraq than "whether or not they can pay their bills" or "put a crop in the field next year."


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