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Congress seeks agreement on airline security bill

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democratic leaders in Congress want an agreement soon on an airline security bill, and Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott said Wednesday he believes there will be a "result before the Thanksgiving recess."

The House is to vote Thursday on a bill. The Senate, by a vote of 100-0, has passed a bill requiring all airport security workers become federal employees.

The key difference between Republicans and Democrats is treatment of the rank-and-file security workforce. Democrats want all workers -- from security screeners to luggage screeners -- to be federal employees. If they were, they would likely become unionized employees.

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The Bush White House and House Republicans want federal supervisors overseeing a private workforce that does not have union or civil service protection shielding them from disciplinary action and firings for poor work performance.

Lott, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said Wednesday that they are all in strong agreement on the need to finish an airline security bill. They met with President Bush Wednesday morning.

"You can argue what is the best way; there are good arguments on both sides. The important thing is to show the American people to do what is necessary to make them feel secure when they get on an airplane," Lott said.

Daschle said there is "strong agreement" on the need to finish the bill.

Gephardt said the president "will sign whatever bill we're able to send him. He obviously supports the Republican version of the bill in the House. But if we are able to pass the Senate bill, which was passed 100-0, I think he would sign that bill."

Gephardt said the president said he does not want to issue an executive order on the matter. "He wants a bill, and that makes me believe that if we can get this bill to him -- and we could do it tomorrow night -- if we could pass the Senate bill that he would sign that legislation," Gephardt said.

Political angling

Both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders held press conferences backing their respective bills Wednesday morning.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey said the House bill will give the Bush administration flexibility.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay said: "What the Senate passed is a nationalized system; what we hope to pass is a federalized system."

DeLay, other Republicans and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta support following the example of some European countries and Israel, where governments retain tight control of training and supervision but the work forces remain private.

"What we will be doing is having stern conditions that screening companies are going to have to meet. We will do the background investigation," Mineta said. "What I want to do is certify the companies, certify the individuals who work for those companies and if the companies aren't doing the work, decertify the companies."

Gephardt, who was flanked by pilot and flight attendants, said: "It's time to get federal law enforcement to do this job." He urged House members not to give into lobbying.

"We're in a war. This is not a time for politics as usual."

Duane Worth, president of Airline Pilots Association, speaking at the Democratic news conference, was insulted at the suggestion by critics of federalizing screeners that it would be a bad development if such employees voted for a union. He said that 100 percent of the people declared as heroes on September 11 were union members, such as the pilots, the flight attendants, and the firefighters.


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