WASHINGTON (AP) -- Six lawmakers who have been pushing creation of a Homeland Security Department for months praised the thrust of President Bush's new proposal at a hearing Tuesday, even as they added to a growing list of questions about the plan.
At the initial House committee hearing since Bush released his plan last week, there was bipartisan agreement that creation of the new Cabinet-level department out of 100 existing federal entities should be the top congressional priority for the rest of this year.
"Delay in passing this bill helps the terrorists because it means were are unprepared that much longer," Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told the House Government Reform subcommittee on national security.
Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., each mentioned the arrest of dirty bomb suspect Jose Padilla as evidence that America remains at risk of attack. Lieberman, lead sponsor of a Senate homeland security agency bill, said rapid passage could avert future terrorist disasters.
"I, for one, do not accept as inevitable that there will be another Sept. 11-type attack," Lieberman said.
Yet Lieberman raised a new question about Bush's plan, suggesting that federal employee unions were concerned about language they believed could undermine their collective bargaining authority. And Specter said it's not clear that Bush's proposal would be strong enough on coordinating information from the intelligence agencies -- and addressing their problems.
"There's going to have to be a real authority to dig down and find out what is going on," Specter said.
Those questions followed a list asked by senior House staffers at a private briefing Monday by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card.
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