WASHINGTON -- The Senate approved the largest government reorganization since World War II in hopes of preventing another Sept. 11-type attack. But the monthslong effort may have been just a warmup for a bigger battle over how to get the new Homeland Security Department up and running.
"Setting up this new department will take time, but I know we will meet the challenge together," a jubilant President Bush said after the Senate, nearing adjournment of the 107th Congress, voted 90-9 on Tuesday to authorize the new Cabinet agency.
On a day that gave Bush a number of decisive legislative victories, the president hailed the bill as "landmark in its scope."
"The United States Senate voted overwhelmingly to better protect America and voted overwhelmingly to help people find work," Bush said at a news conference Wednesday in Prague, Czech Republic, referring to bills creating the new department and bolstering businesses with terrorism insurance.
Speaking with Senate Republican leaders from Air Force One as he flew to NATO meetings in Europe, the president said the Senate's work "ends a session which has seen two years worth of legislative work which has been
very productive for the American people."
Eight Democrats and independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont voted "no" on the homeland security bill, which merges 22 diverse agencies with combined budgets of about $40 billion and which employ 170,000 workers. It will be the largest federal reorganization since the Defense Department was created in 1947.
Tom Ridge, director of the White House Office of Homeland Security, indicated Wednesday that he would head the new department if that's Bush's wish.
"I'm prepared to serve the president in whatever capacity he thinks I can serve the country," Ridge said, when asked about this on CBS' "The Early Show."
But the battles over the department are just beginning. It will take months for the agency to get fully off the ground. And a budget stalemate continues to block most of the extra money for domestic security enhancements both that parties want for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
On top of that, many senators were not happy with the final version of the bill and said they would work to make changes next year.
"I have no doubt that next year we will back addressing the shortcomings that are in this bill," said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
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