Lawmakers to push for passage of homeland bill before lame-duck ends

With President Bush insisting on action, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill. and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., Friday afternoon vowed to press for passage of homeland security legislation before the upcoming lame-duck session adjourns.

Bush at a news conference Thursday insisted that Congress not leave until the homeland security bill is passed. But Hastert and Lott, who spoke with reporters at the White House Friday following a lunch with Bush, gave little firm indication about how much more work they believe can get done this year.

Lott said legislation related to port security and the Coast Guard is "most likely" to move, and that approval of a handful of other conference reports is possible. But he said that while terrorism insurance legislation might be a candidate for passage, there remain "a lot of problems" with the bill. Hastert said appropriators would continue to try to make progress striking agreements on outstanding issues.

Lott indicated he was uncertain when during the lame-duck session he would become majority leader. "It could be next Tuesday, it could be Nov. 22," he said.

Lott said he talked Thursday with Sen.-designate Dean Barkley, I-Minn., but indicated it remains unclear whether Barkley will caucus with Republicans. Barkley has said he intends to take the weekend to think over his options, although GOP Sen.-elect Norm Coleman has called on him to resign so Coleman can be seated immediately. Lott said the lame duck could last one or two weeks, and he hoped no longer than that.

Despite calls from Lott for a speedy lame-duck session, outgoing Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Friday joined President Bush in calling for Congress to hold a more meaningful post-election session. Daschle, who will begin the session as majority leader, said he hopes Congress will use the session to approve each of the remaining fiscal 2003 appropriations bills, create a Homeland Security Department, wrap up a few remaining conference reports-specifically naming the port security bill as the most likely measure to emerge from conference-and clear the calendar of dozens of pending nominations. On homeland security, Daschle said he would "probably" lose the critical vote on the personnel rules for the new department, but he quickly backtracked and said, "I don't know what would happen."

Although Daschle said he did not want to add any legislation to the calendar that is "outside of the box," his comments indicate that the lame-duck session could stretch for weeks, rather than days, as Lott wants.

Earlier Friday, House Republican leaders said they are anxious to move homeland security legislation and fiscal 2003 spending bills in the lame-duck session, which begins next week, but that progress depends largely on the composition and action of the Senate. A spokesman for Hastert said Friday the workload is an "open question," and depends upon how quickly newly elected or appointed senators take their seats or decide which side to join to determine which party will be in majority. "There are a lot of variables. I'm not sure we can assume anything right now," the Hastert spokesman said.

Another House GOP leadership aide called the arrival of Sen.-elect Jim Talent, R-Mo., who can be sworn in immediately once his election is officially certified, and the decision of Barkley the "two X factors" that will determine the future of spending bills and homeland security legislation. "We don't know what the makeup of the Senate will be. I think there is hope, but we don't know," the aide said.

The aide added that Congress could complete some of the 11 unfinished appropriations bills and pass the others in an omnibus bill or approve another continuing resolution, deferring them until next year. GOP leaders also are considering bankruptcy and terrorism risk insurance as possible candidates for House action in the lame-duck session.

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