Homeland security bill set for quick action

The Senate likely will act quickly to pass homeland security legislation already cleared by the House and send it to a conference committee for speedy consideration, legislative sources said. As Republicans gain control of the Senate, prospects for Democrats' objections to management flexibility provisions in the bill that have slowed its progress through Congress are fading.

'Senator Lott believes homeland security is a top priority,' said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for likely new Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) 'Senator Lott has spoken with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and believes homeland security should be brought up as soon as possible.'

Senate Republicans will not achieve a majority until incoming Missouri Sen. Jim Talent receives certification from election authorities in his state, however. Senate aides said they expect that to be completed by next week.

David Marin, spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), said the congressman expects the homeland security bill, HR 5005, to be considered by a conference committee next week. 'We think the prospects for passing homeland security legislation improved markedly on Tuesday,' he said, referring to the change in parties controlling the Senate.

Senate Democrats have at least one maneuver left to stall the president's goal of incorporating management flexibility for Homeland Security Department employees: a filibuster. Bonjean said, 'We would hope the need to protect the security of the American people would preclude a filibuster.'

Some of the most ardent opposition to the management flexibility provisions in the bill has come from the American Federation of Government Employees. AFGE spokeswoman Diane Witiak declined to say whether her union would press for a filibuster. 'I don't know that we have advocated a filibuster,' she said. 'We are working with all lawmakers.' Witiak expressed the hope that lawmakers could reach a compromise on the management flexibility issues to preserve civil service protections and the collective bargaining rights of federal employees.

'You have to remember,' Witiak said, 'that now with a completely Republican-controlled Congress there is nowhere to point a finger. ' I am sure the Republicans will be working with [Sen. Joseph I.] Lieberman and others on the bill.' Connecticut's Lieberman, the Democrats' homeland security standard bearer, has opposed the administration's management flexibility policies.


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