WASHINGTON -- Congress and President Bush are nearing a breakthrough on long-stalled legislation to create a new Cabinet department for domestic security, top Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Sunday.
The fresh momentum for a Department of Homeland Security reflects Bush's enhanced clout after last week's elections gave Republicans control of both houses of Congress.
The homeland security bill has languished in the Democratic-led Senate for months as the two parties fought over the degree of authority the proposed department's management would have to confront labor unions and shake up civil-service rules. Republicans sided with management -- that is, Bush -- and Democrats with the unions.
Now the legislation has new life, and probably on terms closer to Bush's liking. The White House and senior lawmakers worked through the weekend to strike a compromise.
If enacted, the bill to create the third-largest Cabinet department would be the centerpiece of a lame-duck session of the 107th Congress scheduled to begin Tuesday.
Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said Sunday that a deal on homeland security could come this week. "We're very close," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "We hope by Tuesday or Wednesday we would have a bill that could be passed by the Senate by a wide margin."
Lott, who will be majority leader when the 108th Congress begins in January, could take over that position from Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., as early as Tuesday.
Daschle, appearing with Lott on "Meet the Press," also indicated that the bill is likely to move.
"Now we've got to get the job done," Daschle said. "Now the games should be over."
No details about the negotiations were available.
"The Department of Homeland Security will happen," said Don Kettl, a University of Wisconsin political scientist who has followed the debate. "It's just a question of when and under what circumstances. The Democrats still hold a few cards, notably the fact that the Republicans don't have 60 votes to (end debate). But this isn't a good time for the Democrats to try to throw their weight around, because they don't have much."
Homeland security is far from the only matter before the lame-duck Congress. There is a huge backlog of unfinished business -- including a handful of other terrorism-related bills, 11 spending bills for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and more than 80 judicial and executive nominations.
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