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Senate GOPers say Dems are leaving them out of homeland security debate

A number of Senate Republicans and Bush administration officials are quietly raising concerns that they are being left out of the room as Senate Democrats craft legislation to create the proposed Homeland Security Department.

"Right now, we're not at the table," said one Republican. During interviews with CongressDaily in recent days, Republicans in the Senate leadership, on the Governmental Affairs Committee-and even in the Bush administration-say they are growing concerned that they have not seen drafts of the legislation, and are not being asked to participate in the process. If the situation does not change, the Republicans said, the legislation will bog down in the Senate. "If the Democrat leadership attempts to take up a bill on the floor without the full committee's input, it will probably slow down the process, and that should be avoided," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., a member of the Governmental Affairs Committee-the panel that will assume the lead role in approving the Senate legislation.

Cochran did not accuse Senate Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., of ignoring Republicans, but others did. One Senate GOP leadership aide cited growing concern among Republicans that Lieberman-a potential 2004 presidential candidate-is drafting the homeland security package behind closed doors with no feedback from the minority.

While Lieberman has actively sought advice from fellow Democratic committee chairmen with jurisdiction over the issue, this leadership aide added, "Ranking members aren't being given a chance to express themselves through amendments." A spokeswoman for Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican on the Governmental Affairs Committee said, "It is still very unclear to what extent or if at all Lieberman is going to include Republicans in the drafting of his proposal."

Another GOP source said, "There is some anxiety because nobody has seen a draft" of Lieberman's proposal. "We're pushing hard to clear this before August, but we need to have bipartisanship all the way through," the source said. At presstime, efforts to obtain comment from Lieberman's office were unsuccessful-although Lieberman was quoted Wednesday by the Associated Press as saying he expects the Senate measure to reflect much of President Bush's plan. "There are some disagreements, but I don't feel they are deep and divisive," Lieberman said.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said Wednesday the divisions of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to be transferred from the Agriculture Department to the proposed Homeland Security Department may be restricted to "border security." Harkin's office also announced that a hearing on homeland security scheduled for Thursday has been postponed due to scheduling conflicts for administration witnesses-but that the committee staff will proceed with a "roundtable" discussion with agriculture groups on transferring APHIS.

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., also said he believes the White House is open to "moving only some" of APHIS's functions, and that the Agriculture Committee staff is expected to meet with White House staff Thursday to discuss the issues.