- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

President Bush won the first critical Senate test for his proposed Department of Homeland Security yesterday when a majority of members voted against creating a security position in the White House that the administration opposed.
Democratic leaders had proposed creating a Senate-confirmed director of the White House Office of Homeland Security. The position would be separate from the secretary of Homeland Security and would have special authority to approve budgets of agencies involved in homeland security.
But Republicans and the administration said establishing the office would tie the president's hands and that the budget authority could become confusing and counterproductive.
On a 55-41 procedural vote, the Senate sided with the president. Seven Democrats and independent James M. Jeffords of Vermont joined 47 Republicans in support of the president's position.
"This was a pretty good vote," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican. "Perhaps the Democrats are beginning to awaken to the fact that the American people want the president supported. They hadn't shown that until this vote."
What remains to be seen is whether that coalition will hold on other thorny issues, such as giving the president powers to restrict collective-bargaining rights for some employees because of national security reasons.
A Senate Republican aide involved in shepherding the bill said its supporters don't expect to retain all eight of the cross-over voters, but to hold some Democrats and all Republicans on those votes. That, plus the potential tie-breaking vote from Vice President Richard B. Cheney, should be enough, the aide said.
All sides agree on the basics of establishing the department, including transferring 22 agencies and their employees and a budget of nearly $40 billion a year. But they don't agree on how much flexibility to give the president in fiscal and personnel management.
Republicans like Mr. Gramm have cast votes on those issues as a matter of supporting the president in the war on terrorism. But Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said before yesterday's vote that Democrats didn't see it in those terms.
"We have said from the very beginning that we think Congress has to be an equal partner in the creation and implementation of these policies," he said. "Confirmation is a very important constitutional obligation that we take very seriously, and that's what this debate is all about."
Also yesterday, House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, accused Mr. Daschle of an "unbelievable level of ineptness" for not having passed the bill yet, and urged him to take up and pass the House bill. That bill was approved in a 295-132 vote in July with substantial support among Democrats, and had the support of the administration.
But Mr. Daschle said the "chance of our taking up the House bill is zero."
"We will not pass the House bill. We will pass a much better bill," he said. He also said he would not set a deadline for finishing the bill, and argued that the House rushed its debate.
"If I recall, they rushed it through in less than 24 hours. I think that's appalling," he said. "I think both sides here in the Senate have taken this issue and this challenge very seriously. And we're going to continue to do so regardless of how offended the House may be that we've not completed our work."
But Rep. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican and a member of the select committee that wrote the House bill, said completing a bill is important, particularly because of information-sharing requirements that would take effect immediately and flexibility powers the president could use to patch holes in the nation's security staff.

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