- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 4, 2002

President Bush told senators yesterday he will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that restricts his ability to manage the department as he sees fit, just as senators began their debate on a Democrat proposal that contains those restrictions.
White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge visited the Capitol to outline for Republican senators what the president wants in the bill, while Mr. Bush met with a handful of Republican leaders in the afternoon and repeated his determination to hold out for the kind of department he wants.
"He will refuse to accept a bill that limits the flexibility necessary to run the Department of Homeland Security in a way that protects the homeland," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters. Mr. Fleischer said the president will make the same case to Democratic senators in further meetings this week.
But Senate Democrats remain as opposed to those provisions now as they were in July, when Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, shepherded their version of the bill through the Governmental Affairs Committee on a 12-5 vote July 25.
"We're not going to roll over when it comes to principles and beliefs that we hold to be very, very important," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat. "These are key questions that we want to resolve in a way that allows us to move forward on homeland defense but does so without jeopardizing the protections that have been put in place for federal employees for over a century."
The new department would combine 22 federal agencies and control an annual budget of nearly $40 billion.
The flexibility dispute concerns collective-bargaining rights for current federal employees who would be transferred to the new department.
The president wants to retain his existing power to suspend those rights if he determines they conflict with national security, but most Democrats and some Republicans want to create a new process for the president to certify the national security need before suspending the rights of any employees who now enjoy those rights.
The two sides also disagree over how to construct the president's own Office of Homeland Security. Democrats want the person who fills the position to be subject to Senate confirmation, while Republicans say the office should be structured like the national security adviser position so the president can pick his own candidate without congressional input.
The House bill, passed 295-132 on July 26, mirrors the president's wishes on both issues, while the pending Senate plan reflects Democrats' positions.
The president also objects to the Senate bill's restrictions on transferring money within the new department something the president wants.
Republicans will likely offer an amendment to give the president that authority. But Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, opposes that, arguing it infringes on congressional oversight.
Mr. Byrd, who wants a go-slow approach to creating the new department, said he will offer an amendment to establish the department and its secretary but delay decisions about which existing agencies will be transferred. The administration would submit detailed plans and justification for each agency, and Congress would then have time to study each decision, he said.
"I am very concerned that 30 years from now Congress will be struggling to rectify the problems that we will be creating with the hasty, ill-considered enactment of the Department of Homeland Security," Mr. Byrd said.
The Senate debate yesterday included a 94-0 vote to proceed to debate on the overall bill.
Senators plan to double-track legislation now, debating spending measures in the morning and the homeland security bill in the afternoon until the homeland security bill is finished.


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