White House wants House aviation security bill passed soon

The White House signaled Tuesday that it wants a House aviation security bill passed soon so that lawmakers can decide whether or not to federalize airport security jobs in conference committee.

The White House signaled Tuesday that it wants a House aviation security bill passed quickly so that the decision on whether to federalize airport security workers can be worked out in conference committee. Vice President Dick Cheney told House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and House Majority Whip Tom Delay, R-Texas, at a White House meeting Tuesday night that he will join with them to press for passage of aviation security legislation authored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Ark., according to White House officials. "I hope to do this [legislation] this week if we can," Armey said. Leadership aides indicated Tuesday that a final decision on how to move the bill had not been made, but that it would likely go straight to the floor. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said President Bush wants the House measure to get to conference committee, where he hopes lawmakers will "improve" the Senate-passed aviation security bill. Fleischer said Bush opposes the Senate measure because of provisions putting airport security workers on the federal payroll, and that the President remains willing to move by executive order if he does not get a bill he likes. "He wants a bill he can sign. He still is prepared if necessary to enact this through an executive order if the result of the conference is not satisfactory," Fleischer said. However, Bush earlier this month said he would not oppose the Senate bill, and a spokesman for the key sponsor of the Senate bill, Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., said Hollings has had no indication that the President has changed his mind. As for House action, the spokesman said, "All indications are that the rank and file support the Senate's approach, and are ready and willing to pass that bill if given the opportunity." A Young aide said the House bill would offer the President the flexibility to federalize workers if he chooses, and expressed hope that a floor vote on the measure can be scheduled next week. "Trying to get a whip count now is almost impossible," the aide said, referring to the difficulty of coordination among members due to the closing of the House office buildings for anthrax screening. Young, Armey and DeLay are expected to hold a news conference Thursday in an effort to shore up support for the bill. Meanwhile, House Democrats on Wednesday renewed their push for a vote on an aviation security bill that would allow for federalized security workers. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., singled out Armey and DeLay for holding up action on the bill. "Here we are six weeks [after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks] because of an ideological concern of a minority of the majority," Gephardt said. "Mr. DeLay and Mr. Armey have made it clear they don't want this bill brought up." Gephardt said it was an "incredible statement" for Armey to oppose federalizing airport security workers because they might join labor unions, noting that many are already unionized. House Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member James Oberstar, D-Minn., who has offered his own bill, said Wednesday that committee leadership met Tuesday evening but reached no consensus. Oberstar said he expected floor action soon. "We've been told that they're likely to bring something up next week," he said.