- The Washington Times - Friday, September 27, 2002

Senate Republicans are insisting on a vote on the administration-backed homeland security bill, and said yesterday they will wait until Democrats agree to that.

"The president wants an up-or-down vote on his bill, and we're going to hold out for that vote," said Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, who along with Sen. Zell Miller, Georgia Democrat, has crafted a proposal the administration has endorsed.

In two votes yesterday, Republicans, in one case joined by a handful of Democrats, defeated attempts to end debate and force a vote on the Democrats' preferred alternative.

The Senate has ground to a halt over the issue as the two sides, split nearly along party lines, spar about what sort of collective-bargaining rights workers transferred to the proposed department would have.

Democrats, who control the chamber, are insisting that workers transferred to the new department keep the same union rights they now enjoy. But the president maintains a waiver allowing him to override those rights if he deems it necessary for national security. Republicans are insisting the president keep that waiver.

President Bush has said he will not accept the Democrats' newest proposal, which gives him some management flexibility but requires that he justify in writing any union-rights overrides.

The administration yesterday stepped up its lobbying effort, sending Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to make the president's case. So far, though, neither side is budging.

"There is an intransigence when it comes to even negotiating this issue," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.

Twice yesterday, Democrats failed to obtain the 60 votes needed to force action. Each side is jockeying for the right to have the first vote come on its own proposal.

"I think they believe if they can modify the president's homeland security bill first, they can win. But I think they are concerned as of now that if they have to vote up or down, that some members like Max Cleland Max Cleland from Georgia would have a difficult time casting that vote. And others as well," Mr. Gramm said.

Mr. Daschle said yesterday he is considering setting aside the homeland security bill to move to a resolution authorizing use of force against Iraq.

"This is the fourth week we've been debating homeland security," Mr. Daschle said. "And while so many have been unwilling to report the fact that our Republican friends have been filibustering, the fact is they are stopping the completion of our work on this bill."

But Mr. Gramm said moving on to Iraq would just be looking for "cover" for their failure to pass a homeland security bill.

"Democrats so desperately want relief from this bill they're going to pull it down and put Iraq up," he said.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats are ready to say the homeland security bill is dead, though each side says the other must make the next move to break the impasse.

Republicans say Mr. Cleland is a prime candidate to vote for the president's plan. He is up for re-election this year, and one of his most powerful campaign messages has been the support of Mr. Miller, a popular figure in Georgia.

"So far as we are aware today, every single Democrat except Zell Miller opposes the president on homeland security," Mr. Gramm said. "Now, I suspect there are a few out there that don't want to cast that vote, which is what this is about."

But Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, the chief sponsor of Democrats' bill, said the differences are minor.

"The vehicle that we would give the president has a great steering wheel," he said. "About the only thing that's probably changed is the color on the plastic on the rear lights."

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