Homeland bill clears final Senate hurdles

By SHARON OTTERMAN   |   Nov. 19, 2002 at 3:21 PM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 (UPI) -- The Senate cleared the way for the approval of Homeland Security Department Tuesday as Republicans defeated a last-ditch attempt by Democrats to remove seven provisions in the bill they said catered to special interests.

The vote on the controversial amendment was 52-47, with Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., Zell Miller, D-Ga., and Ben Nelson, D-Neb. voting with the Republicans to allow the provisions to stand. The bill will now be able to move quickly to President George W. Bush's desk once it passes the Senate in a long-awaited final vote due to take place late Tuesday.

"We know that this bill is not a perfect bill," Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., told lawmakers on the Senate floor. "We're going to find out that there are things in it that are not good and that there are things we will have to add.

"We're going to bring together 170,000 people in this new agency, and its going to be a tremendous challenge. But, if we don't pass the bill now, when will we do it?"

The seven provisions, which Democrats charge were placed in the bill at the last minute by House Republicans, provide liability protection to the makers of vaccine additives and retroactively limit the ability of people to sue companies that make them. They also allow the new department to contract with off-shore companies and contain language that Democrats said earmarks a new research center for Texas A & M University.

Republicans have defended the provisions as in the national interest. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was the sole Republican to vote to remove them.

"I'm too old to vote for this crap," he told reporters after the amendment failed. "It's special deals for special interests. It sets a very dangerous precedent for next year when the appropriations bills come flooding in.

"I'm very concerned that we will now see an increase, if that's possible, in profiteering for special interests. Its just unfortunate that this unconscionable behavior has to continue."

Moderate Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both from Maine, said they voted against the amendment after being given an "iron-clad" assurance from the Republican leadership that the most controversial measures would be stripped from the bill before money for the new department would be approved.

Collins said a special working group will focus on three issues: allowing people who believe they have been injured in the past by vaccine additives to sue; limiting the right of off-shore companies to participate in homeland security contracts; and opening up the competition for the new research center to many universities.

"We have an iron-clad assurance from Minority Leader Lott, House Speaker (Dennis) Hastert (R-Ill.), House Majority Leader (Tom) De Lay (R-Texas), and the White House that this will happen," Collins said.

But Sen. Phil Graham, R-Texas, one of the bill's main proponents said later he believed the provisions "would be tightened, but they will not be stricken." In response, Democratic leaders said they were skeptical the deal was real.

"Now they come up with a hokey provision that they will take these things out in the appropriation process? Why anyone would fall for that is beyond me," said Sen. Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev.

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