GWEN IFILL: A bill to create the new Department of Homeland Security survived its last challenge in Congress today. Kwame Holman reports.
KWAME HOLMAN: Just when it appeared that legislation creating a new Department of Homeland Security had cleared all possible hurdles in the Senate, it almost stumbled today on an obstacle placed in its path by the House.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: This language, these additions to the bill, added at the 11th hour is arrogance, is an atrocious demonstration of demeaning the legislative process.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: Do I like this process? No. Is the legislative process like making sausage? Yeah, it ain't pretty.
KWAME HOLMAN: At issue was a set of seven provisions that House Republicans quietly added to the homeland security bill last week, just before the full House voted overwhelmingly to approve it. Senate democrats discovered the changes and charged the added provisions heavily favored Republican interests. Connecticut's Joseph Lieberman began an effort to remove them.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: I fear that some of our colleagues have seized upon the likely passage of this bill as an opportunity to load it up with unwise, inappropriate and hastily considered provisions, many of which protect special interests. That is a shame and it is an embarrassment.
KWAME HOLMAN: During this morning's debate leading up to the vote on the Lieberman amendment democrats seized upon those selected provisions. Louisiana's John Breaux on a provision earmarking Texas A & M University.
SEN. JOHN BREAUX: I would suggest that having a homeland security research center at Texas A & M is a good idea if you're from Texas. How about the other 49 states who would like to participate in the process?
KWAME HOLMAN: North Dakota's Byron Dorgan asked rhetorically about corporations allowed to do business with the new department.
SEN. BYRON DORGAN: Is one of the provisions you're describing a provision that makes it easier for a corporation that has renounced its citizenship and moved to the Bahamas in order to save on their tax bill in the United States, makes it easier for them to get contracts with the United States government?
KWAME HOLMAN: Illinois's Dick Durbin questioned the provision favoring vaccine manufacturer Eli Lilly.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: The point was made last week that within this bill is a provision that benefits the Eli Lilly Pharmaceutical Company that basically says pending lawsuits brought on behalf of the parents of children who believe that they are suffering ill effects of a preservative which the company made and put in vaccines that has caused harm to these children, physical and mental harm to these children, that pending lawsuits against this pharmaceutical company would be wiped away by the language of this homeland security bill.
KWAME HOLMAN: Texas Republican Phil Gramm followed the democrats and defended each of the seven provisions added to homeland security bill, including the measure that protects Eli Lilly from lawsuits in favor of arbitration.
SEN. PHIL GRAMM: Plaintiff's attorneys have now reached around the arbitration process and have filled suits that total some ten times the aggregate value of all the vaccine sales in the world combined. This bill, recognizing that new vaccines and powerful vaccines and the stockpiling of those vaccines, will be important to the war on terrorism, are covered by the current arbitration process.
KWAME HOLMAN: Overshadowing the Senate debate over the merits of the seven provisions was the fact that removing them would require another vote in the House of Representatives. The House already has completed its work, almost all members have left Washington and would have to be brought back. Minority Leader Trent Lott argued against any more delays.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: We have fought this fight. We need to get this done. And we need to do it now. If we don't, we don't know, you know, when this process would end. Would we have to go to conference? When would conferees be appointed? Who would appoint them? When would the conference meet? I don't want to be singing jingle bells here December 21. Now we're all prepared to do it if that's the right thing for the country. But we could very well be working on this again next year.
SPOKESPERSON: The clerk will call the roll.
KWAME HOLMAN: Arizona's John McCain was the lone Republican to announce in advance he would support the Lieberman amendment, stripping the seven provisions from the homeland security bill. A handful of Republicans was undecided. But Minority Leader Lott was able to convince two of those wavering Republicans, Collins and Snowe of Maine, that he would work to remove three of the provisions, including the pharmaceutical company protections.
SPOKESPERSON: Ms. Collins. No; Ms. Snowe. No.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: I did talk this morning to the speaker and he was overseas and I also spoke to the new majority leader Tom DeLay and they understand we need to work on those three provisions that we have specified.
REPORTER: Is that a commitment to make the changes or to merely discuss those changes?
SEN. TRENT LOTT: It was a commitment to make the changes, but exactly, you know, how it needs to be done.
KWAME HOLMAN: And Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu facing a re-election run off next month waited to vote until the outcome was assured.
SPOKESPERSON: Ms. Landrieu, no.
KWAME HOLMAN: Landrieu was one of three Democrats who voted to defeat the Lieberman amendment. McCain was the only Republican to vote for it.
SPOKESPERSON: The yeas are 47, the nays are 52. The amendment is not agreed to.
KWAME HOLMAN: A short time later, Minority Leader Trent Lott placed a phone call to President Bush aboard Air Force One en route to the Czech Republic.
SEN. TRENT LOTT: We have defeated the Daschle-Lieberman amendment. And when you wake up in the morning, you will have the authority you need to protect the security of the American people here at home.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I appreciate that, Trent. I want to thank you all for working hard.
KWAME HOLMAN: The Senate was heading toward final passage of the homeland security bill this evening and the President is expected to sign it soon. But because Congress failed to approve most of its appropriations bills during this session, no money has been allotted to create the new Department of Homeland Security and it could exist "on paper only" for several months to come.