House names conference committee members on aviation security

House Democrats pulled back from a House floor showdown Tuesday over aviation security by scrapping conference motion language regarding federalizing airport workers and the citizenship status of screeners.

Instead, House Democrats offered a motion to instruct conferees to make "every effort to resolve all differences ... as soon as possible and no later than Nov. 9." It passed 397-0, and the House appointed its conferees Tuesday night.

Republican conferees include House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica of Florida, and Reps. John Duncan of Tennessee, Vernon Ehlers of Michigan and Thomas Petri of Wisconsin.

Democratic conferees will include Transportation and Infrastructure ranking member James Oberstar of Minnesota, Aviation Subcommittee ranking member William Lipinski of Illinois and Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon.

The Senate is expected to name its conferees today, but it remained unclear how quickly a conference committee could complete its work.

Regarding other issues considered for the Democratic motion, "there was some discussion," said a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo.,. "But we didn't want to inhibit the conference in any way."

Added a key Democratic aide: "We had the debate. There's no point in having it again."

The House aviation security bill that passed last week would give the administration the option of requiring screeners to become federal employees, while the Senate bill that passed last month would require the federalization of most screeners.

House Democrats lost a 218-214 vote last week to adopt the Senate version as a substitute, but the issue remains the most contentious the conference will face.

Some Democrats, such as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., voted against the Democratic substitute because it would have required U.S. citizenship for screeners. Senate aides said members were told the language was a mistake and would be changed to require only legal resident status.

"I don't believe the other body did that on purpose," said Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., during Tuesday's debate, but added that if the provision were not taken out, it would set a "terrible precedent."

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Tuesday that the House-Senate conference should finish its work this week and that the measure should be sent to the president before the Thanksgiving break.

"We've got to go in [to conference] with the realization that this has to be resolved," Daschle said, adding that this debate was "not just a test of my leadership, [it is] a test of Senate resolve.... I'm not the only one being tested."

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., agreed with the Thanksgiving deadline for completing action on the legislation and said negotiators should begin their work by identifying "the good portions" of both bills. But Lott called for "some flexibility" on the question of federalizing airport screeners, such as the House bill would provide.

Mica cautioned members not to rush. "We don't want to deliver a turkey," he said, but added that members want to do this "sooner rather than later."

Two key GOP supporters of the Senate aviation bill--Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas--said Tuesday that liability protections and other "extraneous" issues included in the House bill should be kept out of the final product.

"One of the reasons we got a 100-0 vote is we kept out all the extraneous amendments, whether virtuous or not," McCain said.

The two GOP senators also agreed that the White House must clarify its position on the legislation and on grounds for possible compromise.

"Unfortunately, we have had very little contact with the White House," McCain said.

The administration backed the House version when GOP leaders pushed the bill through that chamber last week.