Homeland debate may be on slow track in September

Even though congressional leaders held out hope last month that they could quickly push legislation to create a Homeland Security Department through the Senate in a matter of days, there are signs that action could be slow-going when Congress returns.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told reporters before the August recess that the Senate should have stayed in town if necessary to complete the bill.

Now, some GOP leadership aides warn that because the underlying legislation is complex-affecting tens of thousands of federal employees and numerous agencies-it could take considerable floor time, while at least one senior Democrat is working to slow passage.

When the Senate returns to session in early September, it will debate a motion to proceed to the homeland security bill. Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., will control the debate time for opponents of the motion. Byrd has warned against rushing ahead without carefully considering the ramifications of creating a new department, and helped persuade Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., not to try to tackle the bill before the break.

Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and ranking member Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., will control the debate time for proponents. If the motion to proceed passes, as is expected, the Senate will take up the bill Wednesday, Sept. 4.

A number of amendments to modify the department's jurisdiction could be offered, while heated fights over labor provisions that have drawn a presidential veto threat are anticipated.

"The homeland security bill should have passed the Senate before August," said a Lott spokesman.

"We hope the Senate Democratic leadership will help us pass a bipartisan homeland security bill immediately, and not let it get bogged down in legislative quicksand." He continued, "Sen. Lott believes the debate should not revolve around partisan turf fights, but will allow the president the flexibility to create a Homeland Security Department that will help Americans feel safe."