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Senate passes aviation security bill

By Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate passed aviation security legislation Thursday that calls for federal marshals on airplanes, increased cockpit security and hijack training for pilots.

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Already delayed two weeks, the bill faces an uncertain fate in the House, where Republican leaders oppose a provision federalizing airport security workers.

The Senate bill gives President Bush mostly what he wanted, including a $2.50 surcharge on passengers for each leg of their flights.

The most controversial provision was one that would make the 28,000 airport screeners and baggage handlers federal employees -- a provision most Republican senators opposed because they said it would create another government bureaucracy.

In a nod to opponents of federalization, the Senate approved by voice vote a provision that would move oversight of security employees from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Justice. Republicans said they "trust" the latter agency more with law enforcement duties.

Nevertheless, House Republican leaders said they would insist on a bill that makes the federal government responsible for security but allows privately contracted employees to do the actual screening.

"A bureaucracy shelters itself from criticism. A bureaucracy shelters itself from real accountability," House Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas said on Wednesday.

"The last thing that we can afford to do is erect some new bureaucracy that is unaccountable and unable to protect the American public," DeLay said.

Since the Senate bill contains a federalization provision, a senior aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois said the House leadership would "let it simmer" for a few weeks and treat it with "benign neglect."

To take the heat off them, Republicans in both houses are encouraging the White House to approve many of the airport security measures by executive order.

They said they believe the only thing that needs congressional approval is federalizing the airport security workers.

Earlier in the day, the Senate defeated a Democrat amendment by Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Missouri, for a $1.9 billion package to aid laid-off airline workers.

Blocking the measure was crucial to passing the airline security bill because Republicans objected to combining the two issues.

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said that if helping workers was relevant to airline security, so too was drilling for oil in Alaska, which he called vital for "national security."

Angry Democrats vowed to help unemployed airline workers as part of a broader aid package they hope to pass as part of an economic stimulus package.

"This is the first time we've said no to any of the victims of the disaster one month ago. The first time that we have said no to working families struggling to put their lives back together. I am troubled, disappointed, disillusioned," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Senators approved an amendment by Sen. Robert Smith, R-New Hampshire, that would allow the Federal Aviation Administration to permit pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit if they are properly trained.

It also passed a measure by Sen. John Breaux, D-Louisiana, to study the use of non-lethal weapons by flight crews to disable hijackers.


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