Senate Leaders Trade Blame on Homeland Security Department

The legislation creating a Homeland Security Department won't be heard in the Senate until after the November elections.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- The Senate's top Democrat, Tom Daschle, blames Republicans for Congress' failure to pass legislation creating a Homeland Security Department. Unsurprisingly, the Senate's Republican leader, Trent Lott, blames Democrats, saying they care more about bureaucratic security than national security.

The two top congressional politicians laid blame squarely on each other Sunday for the Senate's departure from the Capitol for its elections break without passing the bill.

"Republicans, in many cases, do not want the homeland security bill, and I think they're keeping this from coming to the president," Daschle said on "Fox News Sunday."

Lott called Daschle's statement "absolutely wrong."

"Why would we want to in any way kill this department?" he said on CNN's "Late Edition." "We have endorsed it. The president has asked for it. ... Tom Daschle brought this up in such a way that he knew we wouldn't be able to get it done right away."

The delay stems from a dispute over President Bush's demand for flexibility in managing the agency's workers.

He wants the power to override union agreements on grounds of national security and to create a new personnel system he says would be more nimble and modern. Bush and the GOP portray a slow-footed federal civil service hamstrung by union work rules.

Daschle, in turn, has accused Republicans of trying to break the unions and wanting to return to the days when presidents could reward political favorites with government jobs.

"They do not want the president to have the authority he needs to do the job," Lott said. "They're still paying more attention to bureaucratic security than they are homeland security. We could have gotten it done."

Daschle said the Democrats' legislation gives Bush all the authority he needs, including the authority, for national security reasons, to keep Homeland Security Department workers from organizing.

"The real difference is whether or not, once a decision has been made, there's any opportunity for a federal employee to be able to have that decision reviewed," Daschle said. "And not in the case of the president's declaration that certain members of any particular work force should not be unionized, but in the case of an employee who may or may not be a union member, whether or not when he gets fired, he or she has the chance for another review. That is the issue."

"We're willing to go a long way, but we're not willing to go to the extent that they are really to nullify all the protections we've put in place for federal employees," Daschle added.

The Senate likely will take up the Homeland Security Department legislation again when it returns after midterm elections in November. The GOP-controlled House already has passed a version of the legislation.

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