Key senator schedules showdown on TSA bargaining language

One compromise option would let screeners unionize, but give the agency the authority to take actions deemed necessary in emergencies.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., scheduled a Tuesday showdown on legislation that would give collective-bargaining rights to airport screeners working for the Transportation Security Administration, but lawmakers on Friday continued trying to find a compromise solution.

In a morning colloquy with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Reid said the Senate would vote first on a measure offered by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., that would allow screeners to unionize but allow TSA to retain the authority to "take whatever actions" it deemed necessary in emergencies.

A vote would follow on an amendment by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to strip the blanket collective bargaining provision from the overall legislation, which would implement the unaddressed 2004 recommendations of the 9/11 commission, Reid announced.

Republicans have denounced McCaskill's amendment. "It would create more problems than it would solve ... It's a non-starter," a DeMint spokesman said.

A behind-the-scenes effort to reach a compromise acceptable to both sides has been launched by Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine. She said Thursday that she was working to find some "middle ground" that would give TSA adequate flexibility to respond to crises.

McConnell has not ruled out the possibility of a deal. "People are still trying to work things out," his spokesman said.

The White House has threatened to veto the 9/11 bill if it contains the current TSA collective bargaining provision, sponsored by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. McConnell has said he has the votes to sustain the veto and that "this bill will not become law with this dangerous provision in it."