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House Set to Vote on Aviation Security Bill

The four top leaders of Congress left a White House meeting earlier today saying they would overcome stark differences between the House and Senate bills.

“We’d like the right steps to be taken, but again the main thing is we get this done. People want security on airlines,” House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., said. He added that Congress can’t “let another day go by” without passing a bill.

The House plans to vote Thursday on new legislation to fill gaps both Democrats and Republicans say exist in the current law.

The major difference between the Senate and House bills focuses on the role of government in the process of screening airline passengers and baggage. 

Three weeks ago, the Senate voted 100-0 to pass a version of the bill that made 28,000 security screeners at the nation’s larger airports federal employees. Both President Bush and House Republicans have opposed the provision.

The House will instead consider a bill that allows airlines to contract out security arrangements as long as they meet federal guidelines. The government would also be in charge of monitoring those security procedures once in place.

Following the meeting with the president, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle told reporters that Mr. Bush had urged Congress to adopt legislation, but did not insist on the House proposal.

“He didn’t say he wanted the House bill. He didn’t say he wanted the Senate bill. He said he wanted a bill, and I believe he will sign the bill that we send him,” Daschle said.

Mr. Bush met Tuesday with 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats from the House of Representatives to make his case that the best way to improve security is to follow the model of some European countries and Israel, where governments retain tight control of training and supervision but the workforce remains private.

On Wednesday, supporters of both bills held opposing rallies on Capitol Hill, hoping to bolster support ahead of the Thursday vote.

Both bills are largely the same with major provisions addressing such issues as increasing the number of air marshals on flights, expanding anti-hijacking training for flight crews, fortifying cockpit doors and moving toward X-ray inspection of all carry-on and checked bags. Both proposals also impose a passenger fee of $2.50 per flight to pay for heightened security.

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