House eyes creation of homeland security panel

House leaders plan to bring to the floor Wednesday a resolution that will establish an ad hoc committee charged with moving the Bush administration's proposal to create a Homeland Security Department through the legislative process.

The Rules Committee met Tuesday to consider a rule for the resolution, although the measure could come to the floor Wednesday by unanimous consent.

The resolution is expected to spell out the size of the panel and a timetable for House action. According to one leadership source, the panel likely would consist of nine members, including five Republicans and four Democrats.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., already has tapped House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, to head the committee -- but declined Tuesday to discuss his timetable for moving the bill or naming other Republicans.

"We're not going to announce that until we get the resolution," Hastert said.

Rules ranking member Martin Frost, D-Texas -- who is also chairman of the House Democratic Caucus -- said he did not know which four Democrats that Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., would name to the panel. But he suggested the pool of candidates would be small.

"We've been told that it's a leadership committee, so I would expect there would be leadership on it," he said.

On the Republican side, possible committee members include House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who has advocated a more coordinated homeland security effort in the House.

Although he deferred to Hastert on the timetable, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., said Tuesday the House's objective would likely be to complete the homeland security bill by the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The goal is to have the bill on the president's desk for his signature by Sept. 11," Burton said.

Burton said achieving that deadline would require the House to complete its work by the "latter part of July" so that Congress could produce a final bill immediately after members return from its August recess.

Gephardt has been pushing for a Sept. 11 signing date. But Armey told reporters Tuesday that while House GOP leaders want to move expeditiously on homeland security, they have not endorsed the Sept. 11 date.

"We understand the symbolism of that," Armey said, but added, "It is more important to get it right than to get it done on that date."

In the Senate, Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Ct., plans to develop a substitute amendment that will incorporate the administration's latest homeland security proposals.

The Governmental Affairs panel already has passed a related bill, sponsored by Lieberman, on a party-line vote. The amendment could be added to the bill on the floor of the Senate.

Firing a shot across the Democrats' bow, Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., warned Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Tuesday to provide Republicans with sufficient opportunity to participate in the process.

"If he tries to develop a bill that has significant changes from what the president proposed without Republican input, there's going to be a big, big problem," Lott said.

Lott referred to the evolution of energy legislation, which was shaped on the floor rather than in committee. He said a similar approach on homeland security would cause "all kinds of problems."

Meanwhile, bucking the consensus of support for the proposal that has been apparent so far on Capitol Hill, House Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich., questioned the utility of establishing a new department Tuesday -- declining to say whether he would support legislation establishing the new agency.

"We'll have to see what it looks like when we get around to voting on it," said Dingell, the House's senior member.

While offering to be helpful in developing the department, Dingell said his experience in Washington watching reorganizations had caused him to have some skepticism about the this latest proposal for a new agency.

"Reorganization doesn't always get you the results you want -- sometimes it gets you more confusion, more expense, more people and less work," he said.

Dingell spoke to a small group of reporters following a White House meeting between President Bush and the chairmen and ranking members of several committees.

Dingell said he made his point to the president, indicating the onus would be on Bush to try to make the department work.

One source knowledgeable about the meeting said Dingell compared the new agency to the Energy Department -- created in the wake of the energy crisis of the 1970s. Dingell characterized DOE as amalgamation of agencies with different "cultures" that never really meshed.

This source said that with the exception of Dingell, others at the meeting were mainly supportive -- though there were also concerns expressed about the transfer of the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service -- APHIS -- from the Agriculture Department to the proposed Homeland Security Department.