Senators blast homeland bill provisions, but expect approval

Republican and Democrats alike stormed to the Senate floor Thursday to blast a range of special-interest provisions buried in homeland security legislation, before pledging to vote to approve the Homeland Security Department today or early next week.

Most senators said while they opposed many of the superfluous measures added to the bill (H.R. 5710) in recent days by House Republicans, the Senate should pass the House-approved legislation before leaving Washington for the year.

"The question at the end of the day is: Is this bill so bad that you're going to vote against it just to make it clear you have very serious misgivings and then hope that it passes?" said outgoing Majority Leader Daschle, who plans to vote for the legislation on final passage. "I think perhaps it will pass in any case."

Still, Daschle and other senators said the country "is paying a high price for the way with which this legislation has been handled and the way the Republicans, especially in the House, have treated some of these egregious provisions."

A few senators on the other side of the aisle echoed Daschle's criticism. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who was blocked from proposing three amendments to the bill, blamed House Republicans for "put[ting] us in a take-it-or-leave-it situation" by approving their own homeland bill before adjourning. But Specter said the Senate should "take it, even though I think the legislation could be much better with amendments."

Added Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine: "I support homeland security. But I fear that under the name of homeland security, we are being asked to vote on special-interest provisions that have not seen the light of day."

In a series of speeches that stretched into the evening, a number of senators took issue with a host of last-minute changes, such as a provision that limits the liability of pharmaceutical firms that produce vaccine additives and a measure that permits U.S. companies that move offshore to secure government contracts from the new department.

"How serious are they about coming up with a good bill if they're going to protect companies who declare that they don't want to do business in the United States of America, to avoid paying taxes?" Daschle asked.

Senators took particular aim at the vaccine provision, which would be a boon to Eli Lilly & Co., a leading manufacturer of vaccine preservatives.

"It is still stunning that in the midst of a debate about how to protect ourselves we're going to protect our pharmaceutical companies from what may or may not be a fair question about liability," said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who noted that the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee had been working on a bipartisan compromise on that issue.

"Why is this provision being rushed through now in the context of homeland security legislation?" asked Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who wrote the Democrats' version of the homeland bill.

Daschle also condemned House Republicans for stripping language that would have created an independent panel to investigate the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, although it later appeared that a separate deal had been reached between the White House and key senators to create such a panel.

"The president strongly supports a bipartisan commission to expand on the work that has already been done by our intelligence committees and look at a broad range of issues," said White House Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

But McClellan did not say whether President Bush would seek to include a provision for such a commission in the homeland security bill.

Keith Koffler contributed to this report.