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Congress ready to move on homeland security

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, left, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey said they think a plan to create a Cabinet-level homeland security agency could be approved before September 11.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, left, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey said they think a plan to create a Cabinet-level homeland security agency could be approved before September 11.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional leaders said Sunday that further threats from al Qaeda illustrate the need for a coordinated homeland security agency, but cautioned against using the issue as a political football.

"I think it's critical we get this job done," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said on "Fox News Sunday." "But we shouldn't be looking for political advantage -- there's too much to be done in too short a period of time, for either party, but especially for the administration to try to maximize whatever political gain they can get."

President Bush has proposed a massive restructuring of domestic security agencies, bringing much of the work under the auspices of a newly created Cabinet-level department.

Daschle and House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, both said they think the proposal could pass before the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

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"I think we can get it done, but ... this is a big deal," Armey said on ABC's "This Week." "It's a big job and we will have to work together."

"We're all committed to the same objective," he said. "We're going to put our partisan politics aside."

House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, also speaking on "This Week," said the timing of the Cabinet creation was up to Bush.

"We need to get it right," said the Missouri Democrat. "I just hope the president will get the bill to us this week. I'd like to get this done by September 11, but we need a bill in front of us."

Daschle said a potential roadblock to passing the proposal would be the roles of the CIA and FBI -- which have been left out of the Homeland Security Department.

"Those are questions we want to ask and come to some conclusions about," Daschle said. "The hearings are just beginning. We're going to look at the options available to us and make some conclusions."

Republicans as well as Democrats have questioned the decision to keep the CIA and FBI outside the realm of a department set up to coordinate security issues.

Armey said that while "there have been historically good reasons -- administrative reasons and civil libertarian reasons -- for maintaining separate accountabilities and activity lines for these agencies," having the two agencies report to one central figure would "resolve the problem of lack of communication."

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who heads the administration's Office of Homeland Security, said earlier that he believed the legislators' questions would all be answered satisfactorily.

"We would see this new department as a customer of the CIA, a customer of the FBI," he said.

Daschle said that the arrest of "dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla and further revelations of the actions of other suspected terrorists inside U.S. borders bolster arguments for a quick resolution to the homeland security issue, but said it was important to do the job right.

"I think al Qaeda poses a very serious threat, and the most recent revelations indicate yet again how concerned we have to be about homeland defense," he said.

"It's why it's so important for us to construct the most effective way of detection and response to these circumstances as we can. I think we have a long way to go."

Gephardt said there was no reason to let the enormousness of the task slow down the work on the bill, however.

"We can be quick and also efficient and expeditious," he said. "The American people expect us in this case to be bold and efficient and reach this goal."




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