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"Showdown brewing over security measure"

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Showdown brewing over security measure

By Joel Havemann
The Los Angeles (CA) Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate plunged toward a veto face-off with President Bush on Tuesday by passing a bill that would allow airport passenger and baggage screeners to bargain collectively over working conditions.

White House officials and congressional Republicans, accusing the Democrats of kowtowing to organized labor, said the collective-bargaining provision would deny the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) the flexibility it needs to reassign personnel for maximum passenger safety.

Democrats backing the bill said airport-security workers deserved the same negotiation rights enjoyed by most other federal workers.

The Senate approved the legislation 60-38. Both of Washington state's senators voted for the bill. The White House has threatened a veto over the collective-bargaining provision.

The Senate vote fell short of the two-thirds majority that would be required to pass a bill over Bush's veto.

The House earlier this year passed a similar bill by more than two-thirds. But Rep. John Mica, of Florida, ranking Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he was confident a vote to overcome a veto also would fail in that chamber. He said he had written commitments from enough Republicans — including some who supported the bill — affirming their intention to vote against overriding a veto.

"We already know how this showdown is going to end," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

The controversial collective-bargaining provision is part of a broader homeland-security bill designed to implement the remaining recommendations of the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Senate bill would tilt federal homeland-security grants toward states judged to face the greatest risk of terrorist attacks. The House bill contains similar language.

The Senate rejected a provision contained in the House bill that would require ship cargo containers from the largest foreign ports to be scanned and sealed within three years and from all ports within five years.

A final version of the homeland-security bill is expected to emerge relatively soon from talks between House and Senate leaders.

McConnell, predicting the bill would become law if it didn't contain the collective-bargaining measure, said the Democrats were delaying its enactment by pushing a provision "for an applause line" from union supporters.

But with both chambers having backed collective bargaining for airport screeners in their bills, that provision seemed likely to be included in the compromise legislation, setting the stage for a veto by Bush.

Last year, the Sept. 11 commission gave Congress failing grades for leaving undone many of the recommendations in the commission's 2004 report. Democrats pledged during the 2006 congressional campaign that they would try to quickly remedy that if their party took control of Capitol Hill.

"Too many of our communities remain dangerously unprepared to prevent or respond to a terrorist attack," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday in urging passage of the bill.

The Sept. 11 commission did not address collective bargaining.

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