The House of Representatives is in the final hours of debate on a bill to combine more than 20 government agencies into a new Homeland Security Department to protect against terrorism. President Bush warned he may veto any bill emerging from Congress that does not provide maximum flexibility to manage employees of the new cabinet-level department. Although directed at a Senate version of security legislation, the president's warning was a backdrop to the debate in the House. "A time of war is the wrong time to weaken the president's ability to protect the American people," he said.

The controversy was over a proposal to give the president power to waive the right of employees absorbed into the new department to union membership.

Republican Congresswoman Connie Morella noted that labor protections should not be subject to cancellation. "I don't see how being in a union would disallow any of those employees from performing their responsibilities," she said.

Her position was supported by labor unions but in the end, the House voted against her amendment.

Still not resolved, however, is the question of the Senate legislation criticized earlier by the president.