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US Senate Ponders Homeland Security Bill - 2002-10-01

A divided U.S. Senate has failed to break a stalemate over labor union rights that is blocking legislation to create a Homeland Security Department, raising the prospect the bill may not be approved by November's Congressional elections.

There is overwhelming support in Congress for a proposed Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department to better protect the nation from the kind of terrorist attack that occurred on September 11of last year.

But a dispute between Senate Democrats and Republicans over labor union rights has held up a vote on the bill.

Some lawmakers, including Republican Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, expressed concern the bill could be scuttled if a compromise is not found soon. "The bill is on life-support system," he said. "Unless something happens in the very near future, there will not be a homeland security bill this year."

Senator Thompson spoke shortly before a Senate vote to end debate on the measure failed by a 45 to 52 vote, 15 votes short of the necessary 60.

At issue is President Bush's demand for broad powers to hire, fire and transfer workers in the proposed agency, which Mr. Bush argues are necessary to quickly deal with future terrorist threats.

But Democrats, long-time allies of organized labor, say Mr. Bush's proposal would destroy civil service protections and the right to collective bargaining.

The President has threatened to veto the Democratic-sponsored bill that does not include the broad powers.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota insisted the Senate would continue to try to find a compromise. "We will vote on final passage at some point," he said.

The House passed the measure in July.