Published November 12, 2002
WASHINGTON – Lawmakers have reached a tentative deal with the White House for a new Homeland Security Department, Fox News learned Tuesday from administration and congressional sources.
The final bill is now circulating on Capitol Hill for review by rank-and-file members. It could reach a floor vote as early as Wednesday, sources said.
As congressional leaders passed around the legislation, President Bush urged Congress to complete it in short order.
"Certain members of the Senate and House have all kinds of agendas they would like to discuss. The single most important one is to get this one done," he told police officers for the District of Columbia.
"I want to thank the House of Representatives for passing a good bill ... It got stuck in the Senate, but it looks like it is going to come out of the Senate, I hope, and we working hard to bring it forth."
The bill is said to be a compromise of one sought by President Bush and a similar version proposed by Sens. John Breaux, D-La., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.
However, other administration officials warned that the bill is not yet a done deal, and while they are pleased with the progress and happy with Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's cooperation, they are cautious not to celebrate too soon.
Negotiators have been working on a bill for months and homeland security was a central topic of debate in the midterm election. As envisioned in the legislation, the new Homeland Security Department is to have 171,000 employees and a budget in excess of $37 billion per year.
At issue was a sticking point over labor rights for the 41,000 federal employees currently protected by federal unions and how they will transfer their rights into a new department.
Bush had insisted on the authority to bar union membership for national security reasons and to hire, fire, promote and demote more readily than under current rules.
The union employees will have some rights under the compromise. If the president were to change workers' salary structure or job in any way, he would first have to notify their union representatives. There would be a 30-day comment period for union representatives to get back to the White House. If no agreement were reached after that, another 30-day waiting period would be provided to allow for negotiations.
If no agreement were reached there, the director of the Homeland Security Department could impose the new salary structure and job tasks on his or her own. There would also be a role for the Federal Mediation Service to work out those differences.
Only one sticking point remains and that is whether Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., will stymie the legislation by filibustering it. A filibuster could be overcome by a 60-vote move to cut off debate. Byrd has long opposed the homeland security bill, saying it gives too much power to the president.
But Democrats are expected to try to curb Byrd's opposition. Before the election, Democrats were trying to appeal to their base constituents -- union supporters. Now that the election is over and Republicans have taken back the Senate, they are under intense pressure to compromise and pass the legislation.
The Republican-led House passed the president's bill in the summer.
Fox News' Major Garrett and Wendell Goler contributed to this report.