WASHINGTON -- President Bush opened a fresh push to steer Democratic senators in his direction on the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, arguing days before crucial votes that the still-looming threat of terrorism trumps other concerns.
"The enemy is still at large, threatening our safety and security," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "Defeating terrorism requires constant vigilance and preparation by our citizens and by our government."
The White House is using a newly reinvigorated public relations and lobbying campaign to turn up the pressure up on a handful of senators who hold the key to making the president's proposal for the new agency a reality.
Bush summoned Sens. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, and Zell Miller, D-Ga., to the White House Friday to plot how to win over GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Democratic moderates on the central issue of labor rights for the proposed department's 170,000 employees.
Democrats, who control the Senate by just a one-vote margin, largely oppose Bush's demands to be allowed for reasons of national security to implement a new personnel system in the agency and waive union job rules. Bush has threatened to veto any bill that does not include those powers.
Democrats lost a key test vote Thursday, and the House has passed a measure that conforms to the president's request. Gramm and Miller, meanwhile, have written a Bush-endorsed alternative to the Democratic homeland security bill, and the dispute is expected to come to head next week in the Senate after three weeks of debate.
A senior White House official said the administration needs only one more vote to win passage of the Gramm-Miller measure, and has Vice President Dick Cheney ready to cast a tie-breaking vote. The immediate focus was on Chafee, and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was dispatched to tell him that Bush is counting on him, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Their proposal would provide the new secretary of homeland security much of the flexibility he needs to move people and resources to meet new threats," Bush said of the Gramm-Miller measure. "It will protect every employee of the new department against illegal discrimination and build a culture in which federal employees know they are keeping their fellow citizens safe."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.