Homeland Security Department Closer to Reality

The Senate's Democratic and Republican leaders say they are confident compromise is close on legislation creating a homeland security department.

President Bush has demanded immediate congressional action on a homeland defense bill after months of delay. His proposal would create a 170,000-employee, Cabinet agency by combining existing pieces of the federal bureaucracy with roles in domestic security.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that he has the votes to pass homeland security legislation and believes it will happen during a lame-duck session that starts Tuesday. Negotiators worked on a compromise over the weekend, he said.

"We hope by Tuesday or Wednesday we could have a bill that would be passed by the Senate by a wide margin,'' Lott said. "It would be different than probably either side proposed earlier.''

Outgoing Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said he also believes a compromise can be reached. He said he would provide one of the 60 votes needed to stop a Senate filibuster if one develops.

"We are going to try to get this done,'' Daschle told NBC.

It remains to seen whether Lott or Daschle will run the Senate during the post-election session. That depends on which wins the vote of an independent temporarily named to the seat of late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. Appointee Dean Barkley, an independent, has not said what he will do.

Daschle and Lott didn't say what shape they expect compromise homeland security legislation to take. A dispute over employee rights has held up the proposal in the past. Bush has insisted that the department's workers be exempt from collective-bargaining rules.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., speaking on Fox News Sunday, said he supports giving Bush the right to fire employees for national security reasons, but wants to guarantee workers some rights.

"The only area of difference was whether they ought to have a right of appeal at some point down the road after they've been fired, to make sure it was for legitimate reasons, not political reasons,'' Bayh said. "I don't think you want to repeal these people's rights across the board.''

White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Bush wants a homeland security bill on his desk before the lame-duck session ends. Congress may stay in session into December, he said on Meet the Press.

In the Senate, Democrats currently have a 50-49 advantage that includes independent James Jeffords, who sides with them. If Barkley joins the GOP for Senate organization, that plus Vice President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote will put Republicans in control.

If they don't take over Tuesday, Senate Republicans will have the majority in a few weeks when Republican Jim Talent is sworn in to replace Missouri Sen. Jean Carnahan, a Democrat. Talent defeated Carnahan in Tuesday's election and, because Carnahan was an appointee named temporarily to her late husband's term two years ago, will take office as soon as the vote is certified.

Republicans maintained their House majority in last week's midterm election. A highlight of the House lame-duck session will be a vote Thursday by Democrats to elect a successor to Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri as minority leader.

The No. 2 Democrat, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, is heavily favored but faces a challenge from Rep. Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee. "The race is not over,'' he insisted on ABC.

As both houses wrap up the 2002 session and prepare for 2003 session, some lawmakers are looking ahead to the 2004 elections.

The Boston Globe, quoting an unidentified top aide, reported Sunday that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry will file a statement of candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination this month — perhaps as early as this week — with the Federal Election Commission. But Kerry told ABC he has not decided whether to run and won't file this week.