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Senate to Vote on Homeland Security Bill After Rejecting Changes Sought by Democrats

The U.S. Senate has cleared the way for passage of a bill to create a homeland security department, a top priority for President Bush.

A partisan dispute that threatened to delay or derail the homeland security bill ended when Senators rejected a Democratic attempt to strip the bill of provisions added by House Republicans.

The vote came after President Bush made a series of phone calls to Senators, urging them to defeat any effort to change the measure out of concern it could delay it.

Democrats had argued the controversial provisions were aimed at benefiting business interests and had little to do with homeland security.

"This language, these additions to the bill, added at the 11th hour, is arrogance, is an atrocious demonstration of demeaning the legislative process," said Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle.

Among the provisions opposed by Democrats is one to protect drug companies from lawsuits over the side effects of vaccines they create.

Republicans say liability protection is necessary to ensure that drug companies produce the vaccines needed in the fight against terrorism.

Senate Republican leader Trent Lott admitted the bill is not perfect, but urged his colleagues not to change it and risk further delays, arguing that the nation's security is at stake.

"You've got to get this department started," he said. "It could take two months, three months, four months," he said. "Is our homeland going to be secure during that process? Are we vulnerable still in our ports? Our drinking water? Are we at risk? Yes." The new cabinet-level homeland security agency will bring together 170,000 federal workers from more than 20 agencies in what is expected to be the largest government reorganization in half a century.