WASHINGTON, Nov. 12 (UPI) -- President George W. Bush on Tuesday urged the U.S. Senate to approve his homeland security proposal as he visited the District of Columbia Police Department's operations center on the first day of Congress's lame-duck session.
"I believe Congress can show the country that they can finish their work on a high note of achievement. That's what the people want," Bush said. "The people want us to come together and work together and do what's right. And I think Congress can show that's possible to do."
The president urged passage of his homeland security plan that would consolidate more than 170,000 workers in 22 federal agencies into one Cabinet-level department. Bush has made approval of the Department of Homeland Security a top priority for the Senate as it returns to its post-election session. The U.S. House of Representatives voted in July to approve the proposal for a Homeland Security Department.
"The single-most important business before Congress is the creation of a Department of Homeland Security," Bush said. "Certain members of the Senate and the House have got all kinds of agendas they'd like to discuss. The single most important one is to get this bill done."
Bush made his push while touring the Metropolitan Police Department's joint command center, which became operational during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The center features state-of-the-art computer system and a network of cameras located throughout the city that allows federal, state and local officials to view areas of the city during demonstrations or major incidents.
Democrats and labor unions opposed the new agency because Bush wants the ability to suspend collective bargaining agreements in the name of national security. Bush has argued that past presidents have had that ability and bureaucratic rules cannot prevent him or future leaders from meeting the needs of the American people.
"It makes no sense in a time of war to diminish the capacity of the president to be able to put the right people at the right time at the right place," Bush said after his tour of the operations center.
He called the debate "misunderstood" and stressed that the rights of federal workers in the Department of Homeland Security "should be and will fully be" protected, but that he would not give up national security authority "at the price for creating a department we badly need to secure America."
Bush is set to court freshman Sen. Dean Barkley, an Independent from Minnesota, who was appointed last week to complete the term of Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., who died in a plane crash last month while campaigning.
"I'm going to press people right now, in a very gentle way and say let's get homeland security bill done, one that enables this country to be able to respond to threats, one that enables the president to be able to put the right people at the right place at the right time," Bush said earlier in the morning.
Barkley's vote could break the Senate impasse on the measure. With Barkley's appointment and his declaration that he will remain an Independent, the Senate is evenly divided, 49 Republicans, 49 Democrats and two Independents. Sen. James Jeffords, from Vermont and the other declared Independent, votes with the Democrats on organizational matters, leaving the Democrats in control of the upper chamber for another two weeks.