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Barbs fly over Homeland

Armey: 'Al Qaeda doesn't have a Senator Daschle'

Dana Bash
CNN

Rep. Dick Armey on the Democrats:
Rep. Dick Armey on the Democrats: "I guess the difference is al Qaeda doesn't have a Senate."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Democrats and Republicans in Congress traded sharp barbs Thursday over just who is to blame for their failure to pass legislation creating a new Department of Homeland Security before the November election.

The Senate failed to break a procedural gridlock on the legislation Thursday, making it virtually certain that Congress won't approve the measure before leaving town to hit the campaign trail.

House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, blasted Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, accusing him of putting "the next election ahead of next year's security."

"America sits and wonders why is it that al Qaeda, this rag tag bunch of terrorists scattered all over the globe, can reorganize themselves ... and the United States government cannot reorganize itself," Armey said.

"Well, I guess the difference is al Qaeda doesn't have a Senate. Al Qaeda doesn't have a Senator Daschle that has other focuses. Al Qaeda's got a clear focus," Armey said.

Daschle's spokesperson Ranit Schmelzer called Armey's remarks "unfortunate and inappropriate." Daschle himself accused Republicans of conducting a "nasty brand of politics" by intentionally delaying work on homeland security so they can use the issue in the election.

"They would rather use this as an issue to run scurrilous ads, like the one they were running to compare a war hero like Max Cleland to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. That's what's going on here," Daschle said.

Sen. Daschle on the Republicans:
Sen. Daschle on the Republicans: "They would rather use this as an issue to run scurrilous ads."

Daschle was referring to a Senate campaign in Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Cleland is being challenged by GOP Rep. Saxby Chambliss. The Chambliss campaign has aired an ad hitting Cleland for not supporting President Bush's homeland security proposal, which included images of bin Laden and the Iraqi leader.

The Chambliss campaign has retooled the ad to remove bin Laden and Saddam Hussein but has continued to criticize Cleland for his opposition to Bush's bill. The president himself made that point during a campaign stop in Atlanta on Thursday.

"There's no question in my mind if Saxby Chambliss were in the Senate, I would not have to worry about his leadership or his vote on this important matter," he said.

The House passed its version of the bill in July, but the issue has been stalled in the Senate for weeks. Despite agreement on most of the issues for merging 22 agencies into a homeland security department, the legislation has been hung up over the labor rights of its 170,000 employees.

Democrats say workers in the new department should maintain collective bargaining rights that all federal employees have. But President Bush insists he needs the flexibility to fire, demote or transfer workers for national security reasons, and Republicans say Democrats' allegiance to unions is trumping their desire to pass a bill.

"I'm not going to accept a bill which will tie the hands of this president and future presidents to be able to carry out one of our most solemn duties, which is to protect the homeland," Bush said in Atlanta.

However, lawmakers on both sides of the issue said it was still possible to break the impasse when the Senate returns after the November election.



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