WASHINGTON – Congress and the president remained at opposite ends of the airline security debate Saturday as President Bush asked the legislative branch to quash a proposal to "federalize" passenger and baggage screeners at the nation's airports.
Bush renewed his call for placing the government in charge of overseeing, but not employing, airport security workers during his weekly radio address. Such a proposal was embraced in a House bill that will likely be voted on next week
He said that alough the Senate bill was "well-intended," the House legislation is "the quickest, most effective way to increase aviation security."
Bush indirectly suggested that the Senate bill to make security personnel federal employees -- which unanimously passed on Oct. 11 -- could make it more difficult for managers to fire delinquent workers.
"My approach gives the government the flexibility it needs to assemble a skilled and disciplined screening work force," Bush said. "Security managers can move aggressively to discipline or fire employees who fail to live up to the rigorous new standards."
The president's remarks echoed comments by his press secretary, Ari Fleischer, who questioned whether government employees could be disciplined if they failed to do their jobs.
"If somebody joins the federal civil service, it's often impossible to take any discipline action in a prompt fashion," Fleischer said.
The bill pushed by House Republicans would create a Transportation Security Administration within the Transportation Department responsible for security of all modes of transportation. It increases the number of air marshals on flights, takes steps to strengthen cockpit doors, requires law enforcement personnel at each screening location in airports, and imposes a passenger fee of up to $2.50 per flight to pay for new security measures.
The Senate bill and legislation introduced by House Democrats contain many of the same provisions. But the Senate bill would make all 28,000 airport screeners federal workers, allowing smaller airports to use local or state law enforcement officials.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.