WASHINGTON (AP) -- A new Homeland Security Department moved closer to becoming reality after the House easily passed a bill calling for the largest overhaul of the government in more than 50 years.
The Senate appeared ready to follow suit as Democrats, despite their reservations over labor issues, no longer could stop a government reorganization that President Bush has cited as a priority response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The House voted 299-121 Wednesday night to establish the 170,000-member department. Its creation would be the first major reorganization of government in 25 years, since the Energy Department was founded in 1977, and largest since the Defense Department was born in 1947.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Thursday that Bush was pleased with the vote. "This is about protecting the American people and providing the president with the tools he needs to better protect the American people," he said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said the bill "will enable our nation to have the tools it needs to monitor, track and prevent future terrorist acts from happening again."
"We've been given a great opportunity to protect our countrymen and the world," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. "We need to wake up and do it now."
The Senate, which began debating the measure Wednesday, was expected to act in the next few days, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he expected the bill to pass.
"I'm inclined to support final passage," said Daschle, D-S.D., adding that Democrats wanted to see the bill move forward despite lingering concerns over labor provisions.
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