Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., are negotiating a fast-paced schedule for creating a new Homeland Security Department under a procedure that will give Senate Republicans and Democrats a chance to help shape the proposal.
After a White House meeting Wednesday, Senate Democratic leaders said they plan to debate the measure in July.
"Hopefully--and I believe we can do it--[we will] get it passed in the Senate before we leave for the August recess," said Senate Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who spoke at the White House following a meeting between President Bush and 20 chairmen and ranking members of House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over homeland security.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., have said they will try to finish a bill by the Sept. 11 anniversary of last year's terrorist attacks.
Lieberman said a process under discussion would use as a base a bill already passed by his committee on a party-line vote. The committee then would work with the administration to craft a substitute amendment to modify the proposal to include some of the administration's other proposals. The bill then could be amended and considered on the floor of the Senate before the August recess, he said.
"It ought to go through the process to have the legitimacy and the bipartisanship," he said.
Lieberman later Wednesday provided further details, saying his Governmental Affairs Committee would solicit suggestions from leaders of Senate committees with jurisdiction to "feed" his panel's development of a substitute that could pass with bipartisan support.
Lott and Daschle met Wednesday to discuss how to move the proposal. Daschle is vetting the idea with his committee chairmen, while Lott is planning to meet with Republicans today.
Lott said he likes the idea, provided Daschle does not use his majority to write the bill in a partisan fashion--something Lott claims Daschle did on energy legislation. He said it would be unwise to try to write a bill of this magnitude on the floor of the Senate.
"You have to deal with a substitute based on what the administration has asked for," Lott said.
Lott criticized the idea of creating a new select committee in the Senate to oversee the reorganization of the agency.
"I think it might even slow things down," he said.
Bush pressed the lawmakers Wednesday to work together, and officials described the White House session as positive. "I don't really expect major turf wars," Lieberman said. Bush plans to hold a similar session with additional committee leaders next week.
Charlie Mitchell contributed to this report.