A committee of the House of Representatives Friday reviewed final details of a bill that would create a new government agency for homeland security. Lawmakers engaged in lengthy last-minute debate on changes as they prepared the legislation for a vote next week.
It was the culmination of a process that began when President Bush formally proposed combining all or parts of 22 existing government agencies into a single cabinet-level department.
The new department would have 170,000 employees. It would include such agencies as the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, Customs Service, Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency. However, the FBI and CIA would remain independent.
The House and Senate each have separate versions of legislation on which they hope to vote before the congressional recess beginning in August.
The bill before the House is the result of 11 days of hearings by 12 committees. Their recommendations were sent to the select committee chaired by Republican majority leader Dick Armey. Dick Armey: "The select committee will now consider H.R. 5005. The clerk will report the bill."
Clerk: " H.R. 5005 to establish the Department of Homeland Security, and for other purposes."
What followed was polite but openly partisan debate between Republicans and Democrats seeking to put their final stamp on the legislation.
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi called the bill a step backward, accusing Mr. Armey of ignoring recommendations for changes. She and fellow democrat Robert Menendez responded to Republican allegations that Democrats were merely engaging in "turf battles"
Nancy Pelosi: "This isn't about turf. It's about the separation of powers. It's about protecting the American people."
Robert Menendez: "That's not an issue of turf. What is at stake is the work of members, Democrats and Republicans alike, who have a different vision on some of these things in order to protect this country."
Republicans responded by saying they had a responsibility to ensure the new department has the greatest flexibility possible in doing its work. Congressman Rob Portman of Ohio said "I would just respectfully disagree that we didn't listen to and respect the views of the standing committees. Instead we took up a lot of their changes, but we also had this greater responsibility and that's why we are all asked to serve on this committee."
On Friday the select committee voted down a surprise Republican effort to extend the year-end deadline for the government to implement electronic screening of all baggage at airports. Republicans voted down a Democratic amendment that would have expanded congressional control over the existing homeland security office headed by Tom Ridge. Democrats also lost in an attempt to expand worker protections for employees of the new security department.
The Senate is expected to debate its version of homeland security legislation next Wednesday.