House crams before summer recess
Homeland security, trade, bankruptcy on docket
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Like students pulling an all-nighter for final exams, House members are cramming in a lot of work before a monthlong summer recess.
Throughout Friday and likely extending into the wee hours of Saturday, the House will deal with three major pieces of legislation -- creating a new Homeland Security Department; giving the president the power to negotiate trade deals without interference from Congress, and limiting the ability of Americans to seek bankruptcy protection.
The House began debate on a bill to create the new Homeland Security Department late Thursday and planned to continue through much of the day Friday, voting on a long list of amendments.
One key issue is how to deal with employees of the new department. Amendments have to do with whether those employees should be allowed to have union representation, whether they can engage in collective bargaining and whether they will have the same civil service protections that other federal employees enjoy.
Democrats in the House are seeking to do much the same thing as Democrats on the Senate Government Affairs Committee did Thursday, when they approved a bill that would not allow the president to exempt new Homeland Security Department workers from federal labor rules. That would make it harder to hire, fire and transfer workers quickly.
President Bush threatened to veto that measure because he feels it would limit flexibility in the new department.
During the debate on homeland security, the House is also expected to consider an amendment dealing with the deadline for having explosive detection devices in place at airports to screen checked baggage.
The House bill extends the current deadline of December 31, 2002, by a year. An amendment by Democratic Reps. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota and Bob Menendez of New Jersey would keep the current deadline.
An aide to Oberstar said he believes the House passed a good bill last November and there's no need to extend a deadline that the administration has said it thinks it can meet.
"Work expands to fit the time allotted," said the aide.
Weighing in on another issue before the House, Bush visited Capitol Hill Friday afternoon to urge House Republicans to vote for a bill to grant him "trade promotion authority" or TPA.
A House-Senate conference committee has worked out differences between trade measures passed in the House and Senate and now both chambers will vote on the compromise deal.
The president wants the right to negotiate trade deals with other countries without fear that Congress will later try to change the deals. The trade power, once known as "fast track" authority, expired in 1994 and has not been renewed.
But the measure is a tough sell in the House because many Republicans represent districts where people blame lost jobs on trade competition from overseas. For example, North Carolina members are worried about protecting the textile industry and Florida members are concerned about citrus workers losing jobs because Brazilian grapefruits could prove cheaper than Florida-grown ones.
When the House originally voted on the issue of trade promotion authority, the measure barely squeaked by, passing by just one vote.
Also Friday, the House is expected to take up a bill on bankruptcy reform.
Late Thursday, a House-Senate conference committee worked out differences on that bill, including a controversial provision having to do with anti-abortion activists.
The bill would make it more difficult for Americans to seek protection from their debts by filing for bankruptcy protection.
Credit card companies and banks have been pushing for the legislation, arguing that current laws make it too easy for people to escape mounting debt and wipe out credit card bills and other loans.
Consumer rights groups have opposed the measure, arguing that it will unfairly penalize Americans who really need the protection of bankruptcy.
The abortion-rights provision would restrict the ability of anti-abortion protesters to use bankruptcy laws to avoid paying fines resulting from protests at abortion clinics.
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