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Compromise Salvages Security Bill

GOP concession quashes a potentially crippling Democratic amendment.

November 20, 2002|Nick Anderson | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A key concession Tuesday by Republican leaders staved off passage of a potentially crippling Democratic amendment, clearing the way for Senate passage of the bill creating a Department of Homeland Security.

Under a deal brokered by Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) even as the roll call on the amendment proceeded, lawmakers will have a rare chance early next year to make a handful of revisions after the bill becomes law.

Those changes would modify provisions in the bill that have been attacked as special-interest favors for the pharmaceutical industry and others.

Lott secured assurances from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) that the House would look favorably on three proposed changes, lawmakers and aides said.

One proposed revision would narrow a liability protection for vaccine makers, exempting pending litigation. Another would restrict the ability of companies to obtain government contracts if they move overseas to avoid U.S. taxes. A third would open up to more competition a homeland security research center many lawmakers presume was directed toward Texas A&M University.

Lott, who will serve as majority leader in the next Senate, called Hastert and DeLay from a cloakroom while three Republican centrists -- Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island -- were listening. Hastert was reached while en route to Turkey.

Lott's assurances helped persuade the three Republican swing votes and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to oppose the Democratic proposal to strip the controversial provisions from the homeland security bill now.

The amendment failed, 52 to 47. Had it passed, the Senate might have been drawn into a fight with the House that could have doomed the bill for this year.

Every Senate Republican except John McCain of Arizona opposed the Democratic amendment. Along with Nelson, those Democrats breaking ranks to vote against it were Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who faces a Dec. 7 runoff in her reelection bid, and Zell Miller of Georgia. Independent Sen. Dean Barkley of Minnesota also opposed the amendment after obtaining what he said was a commitment from the administration to waive certain requirements for his state under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act.

Nelson said Lott told him that Senate and House Republican leaders would favor bringing up the proposed revisions to the homeland security bill at the first opportunity in the new Congress.

"I'm assuming it will be done in good faith," Nelson said. "It was explained to me in good faith, and we'll just have to wait and see."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), soon to be head of the minority, laughed when asked about the deal.

"We've heard promises like that before," Daschle said. "I'm very dubious."

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