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Senate Partisanship May Prevent Homeland Security

March 2, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

In the Senate, a week of debate on S.4, a bill to implement the unfinished recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, is coming to and end. More work remains to be done, but a lot has been accomplished in this past week in the way of fine-tuning the bill and perfecting its provisions for ideal efficacy. For example, amendments to create a Rural Policing Institute, expand the reporting requirement on cross border interoperability, and to specify the criminal offenses that disqualify an applicant from the receipt of a transportation security card have all been approved. However, all the work that has been done on this important security bill may be for naught if a provision in it that gives collective bargaining rights to Transportation Security Administration employees is allowed to remain.

President Bush has threatened to veto the bill if it includes the collective bargaining provision, and Senate Republicans say that they will stick together to sustain the veto. Democrats would need 2/3rds of the Senate, or 67 votes, to override a presidential veto. It’s likely that they would only find their own 50 votes and none of the Republicans’.

Opponents of the measure argue that collective bargaining rights would hamper TSA employees’ abilities to adapt to changing security threats. Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) warns that giving TSA workers collective bargaining rights “could have a calamitous effect on our nation.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (pictured at right), who is responsible for organizing Republican resistance against the provision, said that voters “would be shocked to know there’s a bill on the floor of the Senate right now that would make our last line of defense against another airline bombing more like the Department of Motor Vehicles.”

But, American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) President John Gage, claims that “with no protections, TSOs [TSA officers] are subject to workplace discrimination, retaliation, adverse actions, unscheduled mandatory overtime and fear of speaking out on issues of security.” “Workers from TSA reported injury and illness rates in 2006 that were six times the 5 percent average for all federal employees, and an attrition rate 10 times the 2.2 percent average for federal civilians,” he said."

The collective bargaining provisions in the bill would not allow TSA workers to strike and they could still be assigned to work in the case of an emergency.

Joe Lieberman (I-CT), one of the bill’s authors, asks: “Is it worth stopping all the improvements of homeland security, adopting the recommendations of the 9/11 commission that have such bipartisan support . . . for one provision that gives quite moderate to weak employee rights, frankly, to people who work every day as screeners?”

If Senate Democrats leave the collective bargaining provision in the bill, which it looks like they almost certainly will do, the task of both parties will be to frame the bill’s stalemate to their political advantage.

Republicans will want to show that Democrats chose to remain steadfast with their pro-labor ideologies instead of implementing changes to protect the country from terrorist threats. Their position may be complicated by the fact that in the previous Republican-led Congress, their own attempts at implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission against terrorist threats received grades that “ranged from barely passing to failing” by the 9/11 Public Discourse Project.

Democrats are preparing to put Republicans in a similarly uncomfortable ideology-before-security position. Elana Schor for The HIll:

>Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and his leadership team showed no inclination to remove the TSA provision from the bill, daring Republicans and President Bush to suffer the political consequences of killing a popular homeland security bill.

>"If Republicans filibuster this, they have the burden to bear," Reid told reporters. “We do not.”

>Senate Democratic campaign chief Charles Schumer (N.Y.), in a warning that could unsettle vulnerable GOP incumbents, added, “Every time Republicans put ideology over security and safety, they lost.”

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