Bush, GOP leaders prevail on homeland bill labor rules

President Bush and congressional Republicans finally prevailed in a key battle over homeland security legislation Tuesday, after a partisan brawl that delayed approval of a Homeland Security Department for four months.

President Bush and congressional Republicans finally prevailed in a key battle over homeland security legislation Tuesday, after a partisan brawl that delayed approval of a Homeland Security Department for four months.

The Republicans' victory came after three Senate moderates, Sens. John Breaux, D-La., Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said they would support a new GOP proposal on personnel rules for the new department.

Their support broke a stalemate on this issue by giving Republicans the votes they need in the Senate to prevail on the personnel issue this week. The new measure likely will first see action in the House-possibly Wednesday-and afterwards in the Senate.

In a statement, the three moderates said while they continue to support their own amendment on the issue, the new Republican amendment "represents improvement."

"In the end, most members of the Senate want to pass homeland security legislation this week," they said. "We will vote for this proposal when it reaches the Senate floor."

Immediately after the trio announced their decision, Democratic leaders in the Senate conceded defeat on the personnel issue and moved to approve the underlying bill by week's end.

The new measure would add language making it slightly more difficult for the president to waive collective bargaining rights for employees of the new agency. Under the proposal, unions would have 30 days to respond to any proposed change to civil service rules. If parties failed to reach agreement, either party could request 30 days of mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an independent agency that intervenes in labor disputes, but does not make rulings. The Homeland Security Department would retain the authority to alter civil service rules after this process.

Most Democrats and labor unions are expected to oppose the new proposal.

A description circulating on Capitol Hill indicates the bill would allow armed pilots in airline cockpits and would allow a one-year delay in baggage screening.

Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said while he did not support the GOP employment rules, he would allow a vote on them.

"There may be differences of opinion on different components of the legislation, but there is no disagreement that we need to complete work on this bill," he said.

The endorsement by Breaux, Chafee and Nelson and the concession by Democrats give Bush a legislative victory a week after he claimed that the GOP's electoral victories provided a mandate on Capitol Hill.

Although Democrats dispute Bush's interpretation of the election results, Breaux, Chafee and Nelson said in a statement, "There is no doubt that the supporters of the [GOP amendment] are in a better negotiating position following the elections of last week."

Said Majority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev.: "It was a good campaign issue for them."

Sen. Dean Barkley, I-Minn., voiced his unequivocal support for compromise homeland security legislation being negotiated by lawmakers and White House aides.

"If there is a compromise being worked out in the Senate, you can guarantee that I will support it," said Barkley, who was sworn in Tuesday.

Barkley spoke at the White House following a meeting with Bush.

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.

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