- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Congressional leaders were negotiating with the White House yesterday about proposed minor wording changes to a resolution authorizing force against Iraq as a House panel prepared to vote on it as early as Thursday.
"There may be some tinkering, but there won't be wholesale changes," said Stuart Roy, spokesman for House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, Texas Republican. "We would like to pass it as close to the form submitted by the president as possible."
House sources said lawmakers were proposing changes that would focus more specifically on Iraq, allowing for less interpretation regarding force that could be used against other nations in the region. That matter of wording has been the Democrats' strongest concern in recent days.
On Thursday, Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, called the proposed wording "unacceptable" because it "appears to actually authorize the president to do virtually anything, anywhere in the Middle East."
On Sunday's political talk shows, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, sounded a similar caution, although he said he was confident the issue could be worked out and the resolution passed with broad support.
The House International Relations Committee has scheduled a classified briefing on Iraq tomorrow with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and could take up the measure as early as Thursday, Republican sources said.
The full House still intends to vote on an Iraq resolution next week, but a Senate source said that chamber's vote was most likely to come during the week of Oct. 7.
"There's not been any substantial movement" on the draft resolution, a Senate Republican staffer said.
One key Republican yesterday urged Congress to pass as strong a resolution as possible, even if that means getting fewer votes.
"I don't want to see us reach the lowest common denominator and present a resolution which doesn't have all the teeth that's in this one," said John W. Warner of Virginia, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "I'd rather have a five-vote margin and a strong resolution."
Meanwhile, President Bush threatened the Democrat-led Senate that he would veto its version of a bill to create a new Department of Homeland Security if the plan does not give him flexibility over the federal labor force.
"The Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people," Mr. Bush told an audience in Trenton, N.J. "I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this president, and future presidents, to better keep the American people secure."
Mr. Bush scheduled a Cabinet meeting for today to discuss the progress of the Iraq resolution and the Homeland Security department, the White House said last night.
In his proposal to combine all or part of 22 federal agencies into one department to oversee homeland defense, Mr. Bush demanded the power to hire, fire and move workers, contrary to the civil-service protections in much of the federal bureaucracy.
"I will not saddle this administration and future administrations with allowing the United States Senate to micro-manage the process. The enemy is too quick for that," Mr. Bush said yesterday.
Mr. Bush said Saturday that the Democrats' version of the bill has a "cumbersome" five-month waiting period to allow for background checks before department employees could be hired and an 18-month period before employees could be fired.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, said Mr. Bush ought to carry out his veto threat.
"As far as I'm concerned, let him go ahead and veto it," Mr. Byrd said. "Congress ought to stand up for principles. If we turn everything over to his administration, what's going to happen to the rights of the working people?"
Mr. Bush said in his New Jersey speech yesterday that he supports a homeland-security measure offered by Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, and Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat.
"It's a bill I can accept," Mr. Bush said yesterday. "It's a bill that will make America more secure. And anything less than that is a bill which I will not accept."
Joseph Curl contributed to this report while traveling with the president in New Jersey.


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