Airline security: Federalizing workers at issue for lawmakers
The U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of the aviation security package by a 286-139 vote November 1. It differed from a comparable bill that the U.S. Senate passed 100-0 October 11. Had representatives approved the Senate version, the bill could have been sent directly to President Bush for his signature. The issue now heads to a House-Senate conference committee for lawmakers to hammer out differences between the two bills. The measure will be stalled until at least the second week of November -- probably longer.
Bush has commended the House, which passed the measure he backs, and urged representatives and senators "to quickly work together to send a strong and effective bill to my desk." But the lines already are drawn in what is expected to be a contentious conference.
Democrats and Republicans differ on treatment of the rank-and-file security work force. Democrats want all workers -- from security to luggage screeners -- to be federal employees, saying that a federal work force would make the nation's airports more secure. Federal workers likely would become unionized employees.
House Republicans want federal supervisors overseeing a private work force. They argue the job could be performed just as effectively by private-sector employees. A private work force also would mean the employees would not have union or civil service protection shielding them from disciplinary action and firings for poor work performance, the bill's backers said.
The Senate and House versions both would put more air marshals on planes, strengthen cockpit doors, require more stringent background checks and training for airport security screeners, allow inspection of all carry-on and checked bags, and authorize pilots to carry guns.
The core of the debate is whether to make airport security screeners and baggage handlers federal employees. The House bill calls for federal oversight of private security screening companies, giving the administration the choice to hire private security companies or federal employees. The Senate version makes federal workers of all the security work force at the nation's largest airports.
The House version establishes a new security administration within the Transportation Department to oversee security for all types of transportation, while the Senate version gives the Justice Department full responsibility for air security.
The House version includes an amendment that limits the financial liability for companies that might be sued by victims of the September 11 attacks.
The House version of the bill calls for more stringent training for airport security screeners.
Under the Senate bill, the Justice Department would have power to put federal air marshals on aircraft when it chooses; the House version would require marshals on all flights all the time.
The House bill allows pilots with training and prior authorization to carry guns on flights, while the Senate version gives the Federal Aviation Administration the authority to decide whether pilots should be armed.
What happens if lawmakers cannot agree on a compromise bill? What recourse would the president have if Congress failed to deliver a compromise?
George W. Bush: The president intensified his personal lobbying for passage of the House bill, meeting with GOP lawmakers and making calls into the final hours before the November 1 vote.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona: The top GOP member on the Senate Transportation Committee and one of the leading critics of the House bill, said he expects the Senate to fight to restore security measures that he said are lost in the House version.
U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas: The House majority whip defends the aviation security bill passed by the House as "very comprehensive." He calls congressional critics of the measure "irresponsible" in assailing it as inadequate to protect travelers.
Norman Mineta: The transportation secretary lobbied with Bush in his endorsement of the GOP House bill.
Airline industry executives and pilots: These groups support the House version of the bill, according to senior House GOP aides.
Air Line Pilots Association: The pilots' union may be insulted by critics' suggestion that federalizing screeners would be a bad development if they voted for a union, said Duane Worth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association.
Congressional leaders -- responding to pressure from the president, security experts and the traveling public -- agree they need to finish an airline security bill. But some lawmakers, noting philosophical and practical differences between the two proposals, said they aren't optimistic that they will come up with one quickly.
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