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Last-minute deal helped GOP win key vote

Moderate Republicans objected to three provisions

From Dana Bash
CNN Washington Bureau

Sens. Susan Collins, left, and Olympia Snowe, Republicans from Maine
Sens. Susan Collins, left, and Olympia Snowe, Republicans from Maine

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Moderate Republicans helped the Homeland Security bill sail through the Senate, but only after the GOP leadership agreed to review provisions in the bill. CNN's Jonathan Karl reports (November 20)
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Tuesday's vote on stripping the homeland security bill of provisions described by Democrats as giveaways to corporate interests was a close call for Republicans.

The GOP came close to losing that vote after three moderate Republicans warned their leaders they would vote with Democrats unless they got what they wanted.

What did they want? Assurances that GOP leaders would work next year to eliminate three of the so-called "special interest" provisions when the new Congress convenes.

Unless that happened, Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, both Maine Republicans, and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-Rhode Island, told Vice President Dick Cheney -- the president of the Senate -- and Minority Leader Trent Lott they would buck their party.

They said they wanted a promise that the first appropriations bill of the 108th Congress would reverse provisions to: allow limits on existing lawsuits against drug manufacturers of vaccines, permit government contracts with U.S. companies that move offshore to avoid paying taxes, and allow Texas A&M University to be the unchallenged home of a homeland security research center.

Lott agreed to work on that, but the senators said they would not be satisfied unless they got the same assurance from House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was on a plane to Turkey and difficult to reach. They also wanted a verbal commitment from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

"It was kind of a moment of high drama, but we felt very strongly that until we got the same kind of strong commitment from the House leaders as we had gotten from Senator Lott, that the deal really was not complete, it was not a done deal," said Collins.

As time for the 15-minute vote ran out, Collins, Snowe and Chafee were in the GOP cloakroom off the Senate floor waiting for Hastert to call.

"The lines in the cloakroom were kept free for the incoming return call from the speaker and from Tom DeLay. And we waited in the cloakroom until those calls came," said Collins. The phone finally rang, and they witnessed Hastert telling Lott he would meet their demands. DeLay also called.

Collins, Snowe and Chafee then went out and cast their "nay" votes. The Democratic amendment was defeated 52-47.

Later, Lott told reporters he had made a "commitment" to make changes to the provisions.

"We will work with senators on both sides of the aisle and the House to make some corrections and clarification," Lott said.

On the House side, a spokesman for DeLay said "no particular action was agreed to" and that DeLay had indicated he would address "improvements" next year.

In a press release, Snowe described the expected changes to the provisions. She said that the provision dealing with offshore corporations will be changed to restrict their participation in government contracts to those considered "essential" to homeland security.

The provision dealing with liability for manufacturers of vaccines will be modified to "grandfather" pending court cases and allow families to pursue other remedies. Finally, Snowe said, the provision calling for the creation of a homeland security research center at a university will be changed to allow other universities to compete for the funds.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Nebraska, were the only Democrats to break with their party and vote against the amendment. Nelson said he too voted against the measure only after he was sure some of the provisions would be corrected.

Landrieu -- who is in a tight runoff race for her Senate seat -- later noted that she comes from a state where Bush is popular and that she sometimes votes with Republicans.

Republicans have threatened to hammer Landrieu for any vote against President Bush as it relates to homeland security.

Republicans successfully used the argument that Democrats were holding up homeland security issue in other races this fall. It is widely considered to be a key issue that helped defeat Sen. Max Cleland, D-Georgia.

Sen. Dean Barkley, the interim independent from Minnesota, also voted against the amendment to strip the seven provisions. While Barkley said he disliked the provisions, he vowed when he was sworn in last week to do what he could to get homeland security passed as soon as possible.

Barkley negotiated with the White House up until Tuesday morning to secure a waiver extension on welfare recipients in his state in exchange for his vote.

He said he got a call from White House chief of staff Andy Card -- who was on Air Force One with the president -- who told him he would "do what he can" on the welfare issue.

Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, voted with Democrats and said he didn't believe the GOP leadership's promise that the provisions would be changed next year.

"The fix is in," McCain told reporters.

CNN Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report

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