From a Newsgroup Member
- "Hooray to Senator Byrd"July 11, 2002
Byrd to Fight Homeland Bill
By Mark Preston
Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is threatening to put the brakes on
legislation to create the Department of Homeland Security, citing
Congress' need to fully analyze all aspects of the proposed
Cabinet-level office before approving a major restructuring of the
Byrd, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he is
concerned Congress is moving too quickly in an effort to approve
the new department, a pace he argued puts the legislative branch
at risk of ceding more of its power to the White House.
"It would be my duty to do whatever I could to support and defend
the Constitution, and I have no hesitancy in doing it," Byrd said in
an interview this week. "I don't like to throw around the word
filibuster. I hope we won't come to that."
Byrd is not the only Member who is openly questioning the
homeland security bill drafted by the White House. Two House
Democrats on Tuesday sent a letter to Homeland Security Director
Tom Ridge expressing their concerns about the proposed
department's structure. But Byrd is the only lawmaker who has
suggested he might work to prevent the bill's passage.
The West Virginia Democrat said he is not opposed to approving a
Cabinet-level homeland office this year, but preferred that
Congress refrain from rushing to set up a full-blown department in
the next few months.
Instead, Byrd proposed that Congress create a framework for the
department and confirm its director but delay much of the work on
its components until next year.
"This is an awfully big step to take, and we ought not to act in such
a way we will regret it," Byrd said.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) warned that any
attempt to block establishing a homeland security department
before Congress adjourned would be met with drastic political
"I don't think any Senator is going to want to filibuster a homeland
security department," Lott said. "This has got broad bipartisan
support and that would be a very unwise decision."
But Byrd said that he is not going to allow politics to dictate his
actions. "We better slow down, and the administration critics can
rave all they want," he said. "We need to read the Constitution and
not the polls."
A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle said
the South Dakota Democrat was still reviewing all aspects of the
"We intend to have this bill on the floor at the end of the month,"
said Ranit Schmelzer, Daschle's spokeswoman. "With that goal in
mind, Senator Daschle and [Governmental Affairs Chairman]
Senator [Joe] Lieberman and others are working through the
substance and process before reaching agreement with all sides."
Byrd said he is particularly concerned about several "half-baked
proposals" in the White House legislation to create the department
which he claimed would usurp Congressional power.
"The bill is not all that good a bill," Byrd said. "I support
Department of Homeland Security, but I don't support giving the
department ... extraordinary powers most of the other departments
do not have. There are proposals in the bill that are not good
proposals from the standpoint of the Constitution."
The provisions Byrd objects to include the White House's attempt to
gain the power to transfer appropriations, sell assets, or
discontinue units within the Department without Congressional
"If a statute is changed it should be done by a similar statute,"Byrd
said. "Congress is the lawmaking body, and one only has to read
the first section of the first Article of the Constitution to
Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the ranking member on the
Appropriations Committee, joined Byrd in penning a June 24 letter
to Lieberman expressing their opposition to several provisions in
the Bush legislation. Lieberman is charged with crafting legislation
in the Senate to create a homeland defense office.
But Stevens, also a senior member of the Governmental Affairs
panel, said that unlike Byrd, he favors creating a fully functional
department this year.
"I am working with Lieberman and [ranking member Sen. Fred]
Thompson [R-Tenn.] on a full bill," said Stevens, who added his split
with the Byrd on this issue would not affect their relationship.
Cordial relations between Byrd and Stevens are expected to help
the Senate through the appropriations process during this politically
charged midterm election year. The full Senate has failed so far to
approve any appropriations bills, but both Stevens and Byrd
predicted that they would move all 13 spending bills out of
committee by the August recess.
"We are going to move very quickly this month, I think," Stevens
said. "All going well, we will mark up all our bills this month."
Byrd also suggested the White House's attempts to usurp
Congressional power might have roots that go back to the Nixon
"For a long time, the powers were gravitating to the President
under [Franklin] Roosevelt, then came the Nixon era when the
powers began gravitating back to the Congress," Byrd said. "The
powers began coming back to this end of the avenue because of
the sordid actions on the part of the Nixon administration.
"You have got to remember that some of these people in this
administration were part of the Nixon administration and the Ford
administration that followed it. They saw those powers come this
way and they probably are chafing still about it and they want to
see those powers brought back to the other end of the avenue."
Vice President Cheney served under Nixon in the Office of Economic
Opportunity and later became chief of staff to President Gerald
Ford. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also served as director of
the Office of Economic Opportunity under Nixon and preceded
Cheney as Ford's chief of staff. Rumsfeld left as Ford's top aide to
become secretary of Defense.
This week, several House committees are expected to offer their
recommendations on the homeland security bill, which will then be
reviewed by a special committee chaired by retiring Majority Leader
Dick Armey (R-Texas). Several Senate committees are holding
hearings this week on the bill, and the Governmental Affairs panel
is expected to mark up its version of the bill on July 24.
Lott said the homeland security bill was discussed during a
bicameral, bipartisan meeting at the White House yesterday and
"both the House and Senate leaders felt like we were positioned
pretty well and that the atmosphere is pretty good on being able to
get a homeland security department done."
In an interview later in the day, Lott said that any problems Byrd
has with the bill should be addressed when it reaches the Senate
"If Senator Byrd or any other Senator has any problems with the
legislation then they ought to offer amendments or make their
concerns known," Lott said. "We are going to go to homeland
security before the August recess, and I hope we are going to pass
it in a bipartisan way."
But Byrd argued that creating this agency is a big undertaking and
"we ought to take our time and be careful and not act with haste.
"We don't have to be in all this rush," Byrd said. "The so-called war
on terrorism, we hear, will be here a long time and we ought not
allow ourselves to be used for partisan reasons to expedite action
just simply to meet somebody's ambitious goal."
As for the prospect of Congress having to return for a lame duck
session to work on the homeland security issue, Byrd said it would
not be necessary.
"I don't favor one for that," Byrd said. "We got time in early next
year. We have been without such a department for many years."
"We have already acted in haste on several occasions since
September 11. We should have taken more time, and I think we are
beginning to see it. This is a big one, and we don't want to make a
mistake on this one."