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Action shifts to House homeland security panel

Now that a series of House committees have finished their reviews of the Bush administration's proposal to build a Department of Homeland Security, a single question emerged: Will Republican leaders ignore bipartisan concerns and write a homeland security bill that reflects President Bush's priorities?

From rank-and-file lawmakers to Republican committee chairmen and Democratic leaders, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are worried that the five GOP legislators on the select committee on homeland security would disregard all but the most obvious recommendations from lawmakers when they put pen to paper next week.

"I suspect the Republicans are going to do what they want to do," said Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif. Waxman said he is already focusing on amendments to the bill, after submitting a detailed list of 10 specific problems with the plan.

"I don't like the process," added Energy and Commerce ranking member John Dingell, D-Mich.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost of Texas, a member of the select committee, warned that for the new department to be successful, it must be the "bipartisan, collaborative product of the entire House of Representatives."

But in a sign that Democrats do not expect such a bipartisan, collaborative process, Frost has told Republicans that he expects the bill to be considered under a so-called open rule, which permits lawmakers to offer dozens of amendments on the House floor.

The emerging concerns have not been limited to Democrats. At his panel's markup Thursday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, threatened to corral his 75 committee members to block floor action unless the GOP leadership includes his committee's suggestions in the final bill.

"If the select committee doesn't give consideration to what the committee did today, then the committee will take down the rule," a committee spokesman said.

To be sure, the Republican leadership has shown no sign so far of excluding Democrats.

Republicans also point out that Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., jointly wrote the resolution setting up the select homeland security panel and creating the process for approving the new department.

"Dick is committed to really helping the minority be a part of this process," said a spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, the select committee's chairman. "Up to this point, he has offered nothing but cooperation."

Even so, many legislators worry that their concerns about the bill will be cast aside in favor of the president's proposal.

"Everyone is aware of how the Republicans have won on the House floor in the last few years," said a Democratic leadership aide.

Many Democrats worry that Armey and the four other GOP lawmakers on the special committee will write the homeland legislation privately --and then block Democratic amendments in an open markup.

In response to the charge, Armey's spokesman was noncommittal. "Mr. Armey has not made any decision or announcement about the specific process for a markup." The spokesman added: "He has not said if he would begin with the base bill, or if a base bill will be created by the committee, or whether he would create a base bill himself."

The select committee has scheduled back-to-back hearings beginning Monday before convening a markup Friday. Armey's spokesman said the panel will convene a hearing Monday afternoon-featuring Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge-and a more comprehensive session Tuesday to gather testimony from the heads of various agencies, departments and programs that will be affected by the legislation.

The committee will hold another hearing Wednesday to hear first- hand from the chairmen and ranking members of the dozen panels that have jurisdiction over elements of the plan.