WASHINGTON – With a renewed sense of urgency to put airline security measures in place quickly, the Senate appeared closer to passing an aviation security bill Tuesday, but was again stymied after members announced lingering objections over some language in the bill.
By Wednesday, no vote was coming.
A Senate GOP leadership source said that one sticking point on the bill was an amendment offered by Jean Carnahan, D-Mo., who wants to attach airline workers' relief to the bill. She said significant opposition exists within the GOP conference to the Carnahan amendment.
GOP lawmakers say the issue of worker relief is not relevant to the bill, though they do think it is legitimate of Carnahan to seek the vote.
"No one has said that Sen. Carnahan shouldn't get her vote. The question is the vehicle and the concern is aviation security and counter-terrorism is so urgent we don't want to run the risk of holding them up," said a GOP leadership staffer.
Last week, President Bush offered a $3 billion proposal to increase unemployment compensation and help workers suffering after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
The chairman and ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, Sens. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz., say they will work to defeat any irrelevant amendments to the bill, which they sponsored.
In addition, Senate Democrats want to add amendments on funding Amtrak with $3.2 billion to enhance security.
Senate Republicans said they are also concerned that some language in the bill would not sit with House Republican members, who oppose federalizing the screener workforce at airports.
Agreement has been reached in the Senate calling for federalizing screeners at the nation's 142 largest airports and letting local and state law enforcement handle screening at smaller airports, with the Federal government picking up the tab.
But House Republicans say any measure to create a new federal bureaucracy is "unacceptable."
Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and others reportedly told Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta last week that they would prefer no bill at all than to agree with the Senate on the federalization issue. They said the president could carry out many of the security measures, such as fortifying cockpit doors and increasing the number of air marshals on flights, by executive order without congressional approval.
The Senate incorporated many of the president's recommendations of last week into its legislation, including plans to expand the federal air marshal program and requiring the Transportation Department to strengthen cockpit doors and enhance anti-hijacking training for flight crews.
The bill would create a new deputy secretary of transportation responsible for the security operations of all modes of transportation, require the Justice Department to conduct background checks on foreign nationals attempting to get flight training in the United States, and impose a tax on one-way air tickets of up to $2.50 per ticket.
But underlying the $2.50 fee is the question of whether that can be done without going through a formal taxation process. Some members have said that no surcharge can be demanded without knowing the actual price of security because that would amount to a new tax on each passenger, and would need to be legislated through the Senate Finance Committee.
Lawmakers have been trying to speed up the pace of legislation after Monday's emergency landing of an American Airlines flight, when a 31-year-old man with a history of mental illness proved pilots are still at risk. The flight landed safely in Chicago after the man who entered the cockpit was subdued by passengers, including his father, and crew members.
The bill is still expected on the House floor as early as next week though there is no consensus yet. House GOP leaders will head to the White House Wednesday morning for further talks with the administration.
Fox News' Julie Asher and the Associated Press contributed to this report.