|[an error occurred while processing this directive]||
Homeland security bill moves toward passage
By Jim Abrams, Associated Press, 11/19/02
WASHINGTON -- The Senate defeated an attempt by Democrats to kill what they called special interests measures in a homeland security bill, bringing a lame-duck Congress close to granting President Bush's demand for a new Cabinet agency to protect Americans from terrorists.
The Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have removed from the bill seven provisions that Democrats said were favors to friends of Republicans. The president and his key advisers actively lobbied wavering senators to defeat the amendment, saying its approval could doom passage of the bill this year.
With the amendment out of the way, the Senate was set to finish work on the legislation Tuesday, ending five months of contentious debate on how to carry out the most monumental reorganization of the federal government in over half a century. The Senate followed immediately with several votes, including one in which it decided 69-30 to waive budget rules affected by spending for the new agency and another, 83-16, to limit further debate on the bill.
Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., a leading sponsor, cautioned that putting the giant new agency together and securing the money for its anti-terrorist efforts will be a long and arduous process. "It's going to be difficult and it's going to take longer than anyone thinks because it's part of the federal government," he said.
The House last week provisionally finished its work for the year, and House leadership aides said the Senate bill could go directly to the president for his signature. They said minor changes in the Senate bill could be dealt with later.
"The terrorists are not going to wait for a process that goes on days, weeks or months," said Senate GOP Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi. "...We need to get this done and we need to do it now."
Three Democrats voted with the president to defeat the amendment, including Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who faces a tough run-off election next month in her bid for a second term, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Zell Miller of Georgia.
John McCain of Arizona was the only Republican to side with the Democrats. The two independents split their vote, with Vermont's James Jeffords voting with the Democrats and Minnesota's Dean Barkley with the Republicans.
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., was in Paris for a fashion tribute to Jacqueline Kennedy, and missed the vote.
Maine's two moderate Republican senators, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., said they voted against the amendment only after receiving assurances from Lott that he would work next year to remove three of the provisions, including one that gives protections to pharmaceutical companies that have already been sued over certain ingredients used in vaccines. Lott also contacted House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., traveling in Turkey, to seek his promise that the provisions would be eliminated.
Nelson said he had received a similar commitment from Lott.
Had the Democratic amendment prevailed, House leaders would have had to decide whether to accept that version or initiate new negotiations.
Most Democrats, while supporting the homeland security bill, balked at what they said were last-minute inclusions of special interest favors unrelated to the nation's security.
"It's the Senate's last chance to show the American people that we are serious about placing some controls on this massive new bureaucracy," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., leading opponent of the legislation.
The most controversial provision would have protected pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits over the side effects of vaccines they create. The protections would have been retroactive to lawsuits already in court concerning ingredients use din vaccines. Democrats said that among the lawsuits that would have been thrown out were those involving claims that mercury-based preservatives used in vaccines cause autism in children.
The bill also includes liability protections for makers of airport screening equipment and airport security firms and weakens an amendment offered by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., that would have barred companies that set up offshore tax havens from getting federal homeland security contracts.
Bush proposed the new department last June, saying the agency that will combine 170,000 federal workers from 22 existing agencies was needed to provide a united front against the terrorist threat to the nation. It would be the biggest federal government reorganization since Harry Truman created the Defense Department in 1947.
The House approved the legislation by a wide margin in July, but Senate debate stalled for months, first over the labor rights of employees in the new agency and now, over special interest provisions.
The Senate, trying to wrap up its work for the year, could also vote Tuesday on a bill that would have the government cover up to $90 billion annually in insurance claims from any future terrorist attacks.
The Homeland Security bill is H.R. 5005.
The terrorism insurance bill is H.R. 3210