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Democrats urge House vote on airport security

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt called Tuesday for quick House action on a bill that would put the federal government in charge of airport security screeners.

Joined by several airline workers and fellow House Democrats, Gephardt accused Republican Reps. Tom DeLay and Dick Armey of Texas and other conservatives of blocking the airline security bill despite bipartisan support.

"Unbending to consensus, uninterested in collaboration and compromise, they refuse to think anew and act anew in light of the attacks because of unwavering ideological opposition to expanding the number of federal law enforcement officers," Gephardt said during a press conference at Reagan Washington National Airport.

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The Senate last week unanimously passed legislation Thursday calling for federal marshals on airplanes, increased cockpit security and hijack training for pilots.

The most controversial provision, opposed by President Bush, would make the 28,000 airport screeners and baggage handlers federal employees.

Although critics say that would only create more government bureaucracy, Gephardt accused conservative House leaders of maintaining the status quo by not bringing the issue to a vote.

"We are here because we hold a simple belief. We must pull the system up by its roots and overhaul it, and the only way to do that is to put it under the control of federal law enforcement agency representatives," he said.

Jonathan Grella, a spokesman for DeLay, dismissed Gephardt's criticism, citing airport security programs in Europe and Israel that DeLay says more closely resemble the president's plan.

"We think that we have an obligation to follow models that have been successful in the past and continue to be successful," said Grella, who suggested Democrats have been unwilling to compromise.

"If they were interested in getting to the bargaining table, they wouldn't be out at Reagan Airport pointing fingers," he said.

But at the press conference, legislation backers said the government needs to take airport screening away from the airlines.

"It is failing the American people miserably," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat who joined Gephardt and Virginia Rep. Jim Moran at the event.

Airline employees also urged Republicans to allow a vote on the legislation.

"So many flight attendants are still afraid to go to work because they know that the security has not drastically changed since September 11," flight attendant Terry Owen said.


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