- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The White House yesterday accused Senate Democrats of filibustering the homeland security bill in order to punish President Bush for insisting on management flexibility in the proposed department and the ability to have a related White House agency.

"Some senators who can't have their way are creating an environment where no one will get their way, that no department will be created," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said yesterday.

Hours later Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, responded by filing a cloture motion that, if it passes, would bring debate to a close on a Democratic counterproposal. The vote will come tomorrow.

The Senate has been debating the Democratic proposal for two weeks, but has not made much progress on many thorny issues. The House already has passed a bill that the White House supports.

"There is no desire to slow this legislation down," Mr. Daschle said, though he blamed the president for the bill not having been completed. "If the president had supported homeland security legislation when Democrats first offered it last summer, we probably would have completed it by now."

But Mr. Bush, speaking at a political fund-raiser in Nashville, Tenn., accused Senate Democrats of being "more interested in Washington's special interests than they are in the interests of protecting the American people."

The president wants to pull together 170,000 federal employees from scores of scattered departments and put them into a new Department of Homeland Security, under his direct command.

Democrats want the employees protected by civil service regulations and collective-bargaining agreements that would make hiring and firing more difficult.

"I don't want to see people fired because they disagree with their boss. I don't want to see people fired because they're Republican or Democrat. I don't want to see people fired simply because they had made a statement and it appears on one of the front pages of the newspapers," Mr. Daschle said.

But the administration said leaving the president without flexibility sets the new department up for failure.

"I hope they get a good bill out of the Senate before they go home to campaign," Mr. Bush said. "But I'm going to make good on my promise that if the flexibility is not in the bill, I'm going to use my veto power."

The House passed its version of the bill, which the president has said he will accept, in a 295-132 vote July 26. The Senate began considering the bill just before its August recess, and has been debating the bill since returning Sept. 3.

But in the two weeks since that time, senators have only passed two amendments one codifying a test program to let airline pilots have access to firearms in cockpits and the other to prohibit companies that move overseas to avoid taxes from bidding on Homeland Security Department contracts.

Mr. Fleischer accused the Democrats of effectively filibustering the bill through endless debate and the drafting of alternatives unacceptable to Mr. Bush.

"It's being talked to death," he told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Debate is entirely appropriate. But there reaches a tipping point where the Senate becomes an institution of inaction and nothing but debate, nothing but talk."

Since Thursday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, had refused to relinquish control of the debate, arguing that the Senate was rushing to create this new department and would give too much power to the executive branch without enough congressional oversight.

Republicans, though, said they think Democrats are trying to set the bill up for failure. They wondered why Mr. Daschle had to file his motion to end debate, rather than just ask Mr. Byrd to sit down.

Even more curious, they said, was that Mr. Byrd then signed the petition to end debate.

"There's one easy way to end this filibuster. The Democratic senator who is engaged in the filibuster could simply stand down," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "What's going on otherwise is a clear effort to kill any chances of the Senate passing the homeland security bill that the president can sign."

Bill Sammon reported from Nashville while traveling with President Bush.

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