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Deal on civil service issues eludes House homeland panel

House Republicans and Democrats failed to reach a deal Thursday on civil service protections for the 170,000 employees of the proposed Homeland Security Department—setting up a partisan clash over the issue in a markup Friday.

Republicans and Democrats in the House failed to reach a deal Thursday on civil service protections for the 170,000 employees of the proposed Homeland Security Department-setting up a partisan clash over the issue in a markup Friday.

The five Republicans and four Democrats on the chamber's Homeland Security Committee met only once Thursday and made limited progress. However, both sides agreed to general principles for employment practices in the department.

But Democrats said they did not give final approval to the compromise because Republicans did not present them with legislative language.

"I wouldn't characterize it as a deal," said Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, the chairman of the homeland security panel. "It's a consensus."

Democrats said any proposal that does not include the actual language is worthless. "Until we have the language," said one Democratic aide, "it's slightly better than meaningless."

The compromise crafted by Republicans tracks a plan proposed by Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., to grant employees of the new department the same labor protections as other federal employees.

The Bush administration proposed giving the department secretary broad discretion to waive standard employment practices to create a less bureaucratic office to protect the homeland.

Democrats, however, would like to give homeland employees the added protections contained in an amendment attached to the Government Reform bill by Rep. Constance Morella, R-Md.

Because the employment issue has emerged as a partisan feud in an otherwise nonpartisan process, Armey left the issue out of the legislation he unveiled Thursday.

At Friday's markup, Republicans will propose a new provision that would include "Burton plus-or-minus Morella," Armey told CongressDaily Thursday.

Burton said the select committee's language "probably will need to be close to what we did to get broad bipartisan support."

Saying he planned to discuss the issue with Armey before the markup, Burton said the issue must be resolved in committee today to ensure that the bill secures broad bipartisan support next week on the House floor.

Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the ranking member of the select committee, said Democrats also would meet to strategize before the markup. They are expected to offer language that reflects the Morella amendment.

Despite the tension between Republicans and Democrats on the issue, both sides downplayed the partisan spat.

Pelosi declined to say that the issue had created a partisan "schism." Instead, she said, "Congress is working its will to develop a better bill."

Asked to predict the atmosphere at today's session, Armey said, "It is my expectation that it will be a fairly easy [markup] in comparison to expectations."