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Bush willing to bypass Congress on airport security, House ally says

From Major Garrett
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush is willing to impose his version of airport security by executive order if Congress doesn't pass a bill that allows the federal government to contract with private companies to provide airport and baggage security, a key House GOP ally of the Bush White House told CNN.

In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Chief Deputy House Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri predicted the House will pass a bill that provides for maximum federal flexibility in imposing tough security standards at U.S. airports.

By a 100-0 vote, the Senate passed a bill requiring all airport security workers to become federal employees. That bill must be merged with the House legislation.

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Blunt said if the final product is not "pretty close" to the House bill, Bush will use his executive powers to go around Congress.

"If they [the Senate] do not come pretty close to where we are," Blunt said. "The president is prepared to do the Republican House bill by executive order."

Two senior White House officials told CNN the president retains the right to use executive orders to get his way on airline security but prefers Congress to produce a bill he can sign. One senior official said the president will urge Congress to move swiftly after the House is scheduled to pass an airline security bill Wednesday.

If negotiations bog down and it appears talks are at an impasse, the official said, Bush will abandon the bill and impose new security standards through executive powers.

"It will be as if he puts a stopwatch on the table," the official said. "The president will say that time is running."

The key difference between House Republicans and Democrats is treatment of the rank-and-file security work force.

Democrats want all workers -- from security screeners to luggage screeners -- to be full-fledged federal employees. If they were, they likely would become unionized.

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

Democrats will stage rallies in more than a dozen cities Monday to protest the White House position on airport security. The demonstrations will mark the first organized partisan clash on any legislation since the September 11 terrorist attacks.


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