Senate Approves Homeland Security Department

A bigger battle, getting the new agency off the ground, may be looming for the next Congress and the president.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (AP) -- Winding down the 107th Congress, the Senate approved the largest government reorganization since World War II in hopes of helping prevent another Sept. 11-type attack.

But the months-long effort may have been just a warm up for a bigger battle to come: getting the new Homeland Security Department up and running.

"Setting up this new department will take time, but I know we will meet the challenge together," a jubilant President Bush said after the Senate, nearing adjournment for the year, voted 90-9 on Tuesday to authorize the new Cabinet agency.

On a day that gave Bush a number of decisive legislative victories, the president hailed the bill as "landmark in its scope."

Speaking with Senate the Republican leaders from Air Force One as he flew to NATO meetings in Europe, the president said the Senate's work "ends a session which has seen two years worth of legislative work which has been very productive for the American people."

Eight Democrats and independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont voted "no" on the homeland-security bill, which merges 22 diverse agencies with combined budgets of about $40 billion and which employ 170,000 workers. It will be the largest federal reorganization since the Defense Department was created in 1947.

But the battles over the department are just beginning. It will take months for the new agency to get fully off the ground. A budget stalemate continues to block most of the extra money for domestic-security enhancements both political parties want for the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

On top of that, many senators were not happy with the final version of the bill and said they would work to make changes next year.

"I have no doubt that next year we will back addressing the shortcomings that are in this bill," said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

But Republicans cheered the bill's passage, saying it was better to have a final product than to keep trying to amend this legislation this year.

"The terrorists are not going to wait for a process that goes on days, weeks or months," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who will be next year's Senate majority leader.

The 107th Congress isn't officially finished yet. The Senate was to meet again Wednesday, with no voting planned. The House was to meet Friday to give final, voice-vote approval to small changes the Senate made in the homeland-security bill before sending it to Bush for his signature.

Completion of the homeland security bill ended a topsy-turvy odyssey for legislation that started inching through Congress nearly a year ago against Bush's will, only to see him offer his own version after momentum became unstoppable.

Democrats resisted Bush's bill because it restricted labor rights of the new department's workers. But many reversed course after their Election Day loss of Senate control was attributed partly to the homeland-security fight.

"This is a substantial accomplishment, a historic day in the age of insecurity we've entered," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., one of many authors of homeland-security legislation.

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