Homeland security bill hot on Hill

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WASHINGTON – The congressional wheels are working overtime in hopes of getting a Homeland Security Department bill to President Bush for his signature before the long August recess.

July 19, the House Select Committee on Homeland Security approved a bill that would give the President substantially what he wants in a new department to protect the nation against terrorism, including the transfer of some activities of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

It was a 5-4 party-line vote that sent the measure to the full House for consideration this week.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas chairs the panel. He drafted the legislation, which would fold into the proposed Department of Homeland Security all or parts of 22 existing agencies – including the Coast Guard, Secret Service and Border Patrol.

Committee Democrats said they hoped to vote on the House floor for the measure but that changes first needed to be made in a number of areas.

Another offering. In the Senate, Government Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., released his version of the bill that to be considered by his committee this week. It follows closely what Bush proposed but differs in several such seeking to bolster the ability of the department to gather intelligence information from the CIA, FBI and other federal agencies.

Lieberman has proposed creation of a separate White House office within the department with a Senate-confirmed director with the powers to aggressively seek such information. The committee bill was to be considered Wednesday.

Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman had told the House committee that the Bush administration had agreed to support the House Agriculture Committee’s recommendation that only the border security functions and the Plum Island research facility in New York be moved from APHIS to Homeland Security.

Originally the administration had proposed moving all of APHIS to the new department, and the turnabout illustrates that farm groups’ support remains important, even when Congress is dealing with national security.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, R-Texas, in testimony before the select committee, also said the administration had agreed to modify its original proposal.

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