Winding down the 107th Congress, the Senate approved the largest government reorganization since World War II in hopes of helping prevent another Sept. 11-type attack. But the effort may have been just a warmup for a bigger battle to come: getting the new Homeland Security Department up and running.
``Setting up this new department will take time, but I know we will meet the challenge together,'' a jubilant President Bush said after the Senate, nearing adjournment for the year, voted 90-9 yesterday to authorize the new Cabinet agency.
On a day that gave Bush a number of decisive legislative victories, the president hailed the bill as ``landmark in its scope.''
``The United States Senate voted ovewhelmingly to better protect America and voted overwhelmingly to help people find work,'' Bush said at a news conference today in Prague, Czech Republic, referring to bills creating the new department and bolstering businesses with terrorism insurance. ``I want to thank the members of the United States Senate for working with this administration to do the right thing for the American people.''
Speaking with Senate Republican leaders from Air Force One as he flew to NATO meetings in Europe, the president said the Senate's work ``ends a session which has seen two years worth of legislative work which has been very productive for the American people.''
Eight Democrats and independent Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont voted ``no'' on the homeland security bill, which merges 22 diverse agencies with combined budgets of about $40 billion and which employ 170,000 workers. It will be the largest federal reorganization since the Defense Department was created in 1947.
But the battles over the department are just beginning. It will take months for the new agency to get fully off the ground. And a budget stalemate continues to block most of the extra money for domestic security enhancements both political parties want for the federal fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
On top of that, many senators were not happy with the final version of the bill and said they would work to make changes next year.
``I have no doubt that next year we will back addressing the shortcomings that are in this bill,'' said outgoing Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
But Republicans cheered the bill's passage, saying it was better to have a final product than to keep trying to amend this legislation this year.
``The terrorists are not going to wait for a process that goes on days, weeks or months,'' said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who will be next year's Senate majority leader.
The Senate also used voice votes to approve about 130 land and water bills. They included a bill sent to the House extending for three years the CalFed project, aimed at restoring the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which provides water for drinking and irrigation for much of the state.