- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 29, 2002

Election-year politics are a chief reason for the Senate's impasse on creating a Homeland Security Department. Democrats are refusing to buck their allies in organized labor and give President Bush the broad power he demands to hire and fire agency workers.
With the Nov. 5 elections fast approaching, Republicans increasingly see the bill as a chance to force Democrats into an uncomfortable choice between a popular president and unions that overwhelmingly support Democrats.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, implied the connection when he said Friday that Democrats "are determined not to let a bill go through that these public-sector unions are not satisfied with, and it's very interesting why they're so overwrought over that."
Mr. Bush wants broad authority to hire, fire and deploy the 170,000 workers that would be transferred to the new Cabinet-level agency to meet emerging terrorist threats. The president contends Democrats are trying to limit his existing authority to exempt department workers from union bargaining agreements for reasons of national security.
The issue has angered some Senate Democrats. Republicans are engaging in "cynical manipulation" and seeking to gain political advantage on the worker rights issue, says Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat.
Some Democrats question whether the Republican Party prefers letting the bill stall in the chamber and blaming it on Democrats and unions.
"I feel as though I am being set up," Miss Mikulski said. "If we stand up for the workers, we are somehow or another slowing down the debate on homeland security."
While campaigning Friday for Republican candidates, Mr. Bush went after labor leaders, arguing they have hindered steps to tighten border security. He criticized union protests of Customs Service efforts to get emergency contact numbers for its workers and require those inspecting shipping containers at the nation's 301 ports to wear radiation detectors.
Democrats rely heavily on unions for campaign money. Unions this year have given 92 percent of their contributions, or more than $49 million, to Democratic candidates or organizations, according to the most recent reports from the Center for Responsive Politics, which closely tracks political donations. The Republican Party has gotten about $4 million.
Unions representing government employees are among the most generous and play important roles in races that could decide control of the Senate.
Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat in a tight re-election race with Republican Rep. John Thune, tops the list in contributions from these unions at $82,750. Following close behind are other Democrats up for re-election, including Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia at $80,500, Minnesota's Sen. Paul Wellstone at $74,500 and Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri at $67,700.
Democrats and labor unions, including the powerful AFL-CIO, contend that they are simply trying to prevent an assault by the White House on fundamental principles of collective bargaining. They say Mr. Bush's demand for greater personnel authority in a Homeland Security Department is part of a broader agenda to bust unions, not to enhance protection against terrorism.
The unions have mobilized their forces, with the AFL-CIO including on its Internet site a form e-mail message that can be sent to any senator urging opposition to Mr. Bush's plan.
Politics are also behind the maneuverings on the Senate floor, where it essentially comes down to who gets the first vote: Mr. Bush or the Democrats, in the form of an alternative that gives the president some management flexibility but places more conditions on him in order to waive employee union rights.
Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, is insisting that Mr. Bush's plan be voted on first, on the theory that many Democrats would support the president's proposal and abandon their party's alternative.
Democrats noted that Republicans voted against cutting off Senate debate on the president's plan, evidence to them of Republican intentions to drag out the issue. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said his complaints accusing Republicans of seeking to politicize the Iraq war issue also apply to the delay on homeland security.
"They are extending this debate indefinitely for reasons that are inexplicable. They may be explicable," Mr. Daschle said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide