President Bush said Tuesday that Congress must pass a new homeland security bill so that law enforcement has the tools to fight terrorism on U.S. territory.
"Our job — our government's greatest responsibility is to protect the American people. That's our most important job. And this requires Congress to create a new Department of Homeland Security so we can better do our job," Bush said after touring the command and control center belonging to the District of Columbia police department.
Democrats are still in charge of the Senate during the lame duck session and while administration and congressional sources have told Fox News that a deal has been reached, advisers to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., say that the Democratic caucus is deeply divided over how to proceed on the bill.
Daschle aides say the leader has heard from at least 10 members of the Senate Democratic caucus who think it is time to dig in and fight harder for labor union provisions guaranteeing union workers that their job tasks will not be changed without collective bargaining measures.
But they are also trying to avoid partisan battles, recognizing that the president's success on the campaign trail during this election was largely due to his discussion of homeland security issues.
Aides to Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Democratic conference still has quite a bit of work to do to determine just what direction and posture it will take during the lame duck session, and that "next year is too far away to worry about" making plans.
Republicans have warned that if creation of a Homeland Security Department is delayed any longer, it will further jeopardize Americans, who are without a central coordinating unit to protect the homeland.
Administration officials said Tuesday they believe they have a suitable compromise in which the president can waive union rights in order to meet national security concerns.
Bush said Tuesday that he doesn't think collective bargaining measures should get in the way of protecting Americans.
"To meet the threats, I must be able and future presidents must be able to move people and resources where they're needed, and to do it quickly, without being forced to comply with a thick book of rules. The enemy moves quickly, and America must move quickly," Bush said. "I will not give up national security authority at the price of creating a department we badly need.
Bush said that police, fire and healthcare workers are the first line of defense against "suiciders," who would use hijacked planes, bombs and other means to threaten Americans at home, and they must be protected.
"We got to make sure our first-responders are well equipped and trained and organized for their duties."
But, he added that he is confident the lame-duck session will create the new department.
"The single- most important business before Congress is the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. I'm certain members of the Senate and the House have got all kinds of agendas they'd like to discuss. The single most important one is to get this bill done," the president said.
Fox News' Carl Cameron contributed to this report.