Washington Post
October 11, 2001

Anti-Terror Bill Action May Come Today

By Helen Dewar

WASHINGTON -- The Senate yesterday paved the way for swift action on anti-terrorism legislation as early as today if it remains bogged down over legislation to strengthen security at the nation's airports.

Despite a week of partisan squabbling over the aviation security bill and earlier disputes over the anti-terrorism measure, key senators and legislative aides expressed cautious optimism that action on one or both bills could be completed by the end of this week.

The procedural compromise was reached after the Senate agreed to allow votes on four amendments that Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) wanted to offer to the anti-terrorism measure. Feingold had held up action on that bill Tuesday to force the Senate to vote on his amendments to add safeguards protecting civil liberties in dealing with wiretaps, personal records and searches of property.

Frustrated by deadlock over the aviation security bill, the Senate agreed without dissent to the compromise under which Senate leaders, after consultation with sponsors of the aviation bill, could temporarily put that measure aside and switch to the counter-terrorism legislation.

When -- or if -- that might happen was unclear last night.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a co-sponsor of the aviation bill and ranking Republican on the Commerce Committee, objected initially to interrupting debate on his legislation out of concern it would further bog down the bill. McCain agreed to go along with the proposal after Senate leaders agreed to consult with him and Commerce Committee Chairman Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) before shelving the aviation bill even for a short time.

The aviation bill has been stalled since Oct. 3 in a dispute over its provision for a federal takeover of airport security operations and Democrats' insistence on expanding the legislation to include new unemployment, health and job training assistance for laid-off aviation workers. Republicans who oppose both proposals have blocked action on the bill, prompting bipartisan complaints.

"We're nearing the end of our second week on this bill, and I think the American people deserve better," McCain complained as the Senate spent most of the day without any action.

In at least a small measure of progress on the aviation bill, it was formally taken up late yesterday afternoon by the Senate, which began considering amendments, starting with a scaled-back version of the worker assistance package. In hopes of picking up some Republican support, Democrats have reduced the proposal's original $3.8 billion price tag to $1.9 billion.

But Republicans continued to balk at the proposal and a vote was scheduled for today on stopping their delaying tactics on the amendment. It would take 60 votes to overcome the GOP objections, and Democrats appeared uncertain whether they would prevail.

In an interview, Feingold said he was satisfied by the guarantee of a vote on his amendments on the anti-terrorism bill. "All I wanted was assurance of votes on the proposals. They're tough issues, and I know it will be difficult to prevail . . . but these are important issues."

Copyright 2001, Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

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