By JAMES ROSEN
March 07, 2007
The measure, offered as an amendment to a broader bill implementing all the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, was defeated 51-46. All 50 Democratic senators, plus Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, opposed it.
The legislation grants collective bargaining rights to the 45,000 employees of the Transportation Security Administration, most of whom are airport screeners.
"Collective bargaining will tie TSA's hands with needless red tape and create a homeland security disaster," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. who sponsored the amendment. "This earmark for the labor unions will force us to negotiate with unions on daily security decisions before we can act to save American lives."
Despite the defeat, DeMint achieved his goal of gaining enough supporters to prevent Democrats from overriding President Bush's veto of the overall legislation.
Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said Bush strongly opposes establishing collective bargaining powers for the TSA, which Congress created after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Forcing the agency to negotiate with unions, Stanzel said, would weaken its ability to shift personnel with little notice or to otherwise move quickly in response to threats to the American people.
After British police last summer broke up a plot to blow up planes headed from the United Kingdom to the United States, Stanzel said, TSA officials moved employees to different locations and gave them new assignments.
"If the bill was presented to the president in its current form, the president's advisers would recommend that he veto the legislation," Stanzel said.
Implementing all of the Sept. 11 commission recommendations was one of the Democrats' six main legislative priorities in its successful election campaign last fall. The House passed legislation fulfilling the pledge in January, and the Senate is expected to follow suit this week.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada urged Bush to sign the measure into law after a conference committee from the two chambers produces a unified bill.
"Now it is time for President Bush and Senate Republicans to make clear they will not seek to block this critical homeland security legislation," Reid said. "The 9/11 families have asked us to pass this bill, and we have an obligation to them and to the country."
The Constitution requires that two-thirds of the House and Senate must vote to override a presidential veto in order for a disputed measure to become law.
With Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., on extended medical leave because of a stroke, 66 senators would be needed to override a Bush veto of the homeland security legislation. The vote on DeMint's amendment Tuesday indicated that Democrats would fall short of any bid to override a veto.
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com
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