The U.S. Senate has begun its August recess one week after the House began its month-long break. Senate leaders said the first order of business when they return next month will be legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security, which the House has already approved.
Before he left for the Congressional recess, Republican Senate leader Trent Lott criticized the Democrat-controlled body for failing to finish its work on the Homeland Security bill. "In the case of the Senate, it did its job inappropriately. It did not complete its work. Homeland security was barely taken up in the Senate, certainly not completed," Mr. Lott said.
Senator Robert Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, led the effort to delay consideration of the measure, a move he defended on the Senate floor this week. "I certainly understand that no senator wants to be seen as delaying our government's efforts to protect our homeland, but in trying to avoid being labeled as obstructionist, we must not be willing to ignore even the most pertinent questions about the proposal such as: will a new Homeland Security Department actually make the public safer?" Senator Byrd said.
President Bush had wanted the Senate to join the House and pass the legislation before the August recess. But that would have given Senators just a few days to debate the measure. Senator Byrd argued that was not enough time to consider one of the largest government reorganizations in U.S. history.
The delay means the legislation will not be signed into law by September 11, the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks against the United States, as some lawmakers and the White House had hoped.
But even some Republicans agree that it may not be a good idea to rush through the legislation. Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee offered his view on CBS television.
"The September 11th anniversary is not important to me to have the bill signed into law. There is some symbolic significance there, but it is much, much more important that we take the time necessary to do this right," Senator Thompson said.
The House-passed version of the bill closely resembles President Bush's plan for the proposed Cabinet Agency.
Majority Democrats in the Senate oppose a provision in the House bill that gives the President the right to waive worker protection rights in the interest of national security.
The Senate version maintains current worker protection rights, a provision that prompted a veto threat from President Bush.
Still, Senate Republicans believe that in the end Congress will give Mr. Bush much of the management flexibility he said is necessary to deal quickly with emerging threats.
Apart from the worker issues, the Senate bill reflects much of what Mr. Bush is asking in merging all or parts of 22 agencies into a single department of some 170,000 employees with the aim of protecting Americans from terrorism.