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US Senate to Decide on Homeland Security Agency

The U.S. Senate Tuesday is expected to vote on legislation creating a Cabinet-level homeland security agency, a top priority for President Bush. But a partisan dispute threatens to delay the bill.

There is strong support among Senators for a bill to create a homeland security department.

But a partisan dispute has arisen over provisions added by House Republicans. Senate Democrats, who are in the waning days of holding a majority before a Republican-led Senate is sworn in next year, want to strip the bill of those provisions.

Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said, "If this is a homeland security bill, let us keep it homeland security-related. Let us take out all the terrible special interest legislation that has nothing to do with homeland security."

But Republicans said the provisions are related to homeland security. Senator Phil Gramm of Texas said, "I think there is a logical justification for the amendments in general, and I urge my colleagues to get the whole story, before they cast their vote."

Among the provisions opposed by Democrats is one that would protect drug companies from lawsuits over vaccines they create and their side effects. Republicans say liability protection is needed to ensure that drug companies will produce the vaccines that America needs to fight the war on terrorism.

Republicans warn that removing the provisions could kill any chance that a homeland security bill would be signed into law by President Bush this year.

The Republican-led House has already passed the bill, and completed its work for the year. If the Senate makes changes to the legislation, House members would have to be called back to Washington to consider it.

The homeland security bill would pave the way for the largest U.S. government reorganization in half a century by consolidating into the new department all or parts of more than 20 federal agencies.