- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

The debate over the proposed Department of Homeland Security yesterday turned into an election-year litmus test of senators' support for labor unions.
At a morning rally with dozens of members of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), Democratic senators said President Bush's proposal for the new department makes the unions the enemy.
"We've got to remind the president that the enemy here is Osama bin Laden, not Bobby Harnage," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, who as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee wrote the Democrats' alternate plan for the department. Mr. Harnage is the president of the AFGE.
"Why are they putting this issue on the table? I fear it's because there are a group of partisan, ideological, antiworker advisers who have steered this president of the United States in the wrong direction," Mr. Lieberman said.
He was accompanied by several union members who responded to the September 11 attacks, including one New York City Fire Department battalion chief who has since retired on disability because of injuries sustained when the second World Trade Center tower collapsed.
"They have decided to pick a fight about civil service rights and collective bargaining. It is bizarre, because it has nothing to do with Homeland Security," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.
Republicans, though, said Democrats want to curtail presidential authority.
"The president didn't put this issue on the table; the Democrats tried to take it off the table, to try to take away authority," said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "It's not about President Bush. It's about presidents. It's about managers. It's about a secretary of a department that's going to have to try to bring together all these different agencies, 170,000 people, and get a focus and get a job done."
"There are a lot of pressures on those people here in Washington as a result of some of the special-interest influences in Washington," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday. "But the president will continue to put the needs of protecting the country first."
All sides agree on the basics of the bill, combining 22 existing federal agencies and 170,000 employees into the new department, which would control almost $40 billion in yearly budget authority. But Democrats want to protect the existing collective-bargaining rights of employees who would be transferred to the new department, while the administration wants to protect the authority the president enjoys to curtail those rights for many employees for national security reasons. Those goals clash in the new department.
Republicans will offer an amendment to restore the president's flexibility language, and Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, the top Republican on the Governmental Affairs Committee, said he expects a vote on the issue sometime next week. He said he doesn't know how many senators will vote with the president, but added that he expects the tally to fall mostly along partisan lines.
Republicans, however, say there are enough votes to sustain a presidential veto.
Mr. Lieberman's comments prompted Senate Republican leadership aides to issue a memo saying he is sounding increasingly partisan.
"Perhaps it's perceived as a golden opportunity to get a leg up on the competition for the '04 Democratic presidential primary. Perhaps pandering to big labor with hopes of filling the war chest," the memo reads.
The House bill already contains the management flexibility that Mr. Bush wants, and any bill the Senate produces would have to be squared with the House version.
House Republican leaders finished their version before they left for the August recess, and Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, yesterday chastised the Senate for failing to match that.
"The Senate has wasted an entire month, and we've lost valuable time. We will continue to work to get a bill on the president's desk before the year is out and pass a bill that will make America safer."

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