if the House passes the Republican bill providing for tightened
security and heavy federal supervision of baggage screening at the
nation's airports, the measure will still face an intimidating hurdle:
the Senate's unanimous approval of its version of the bill, calling
for full federalization of 28,000 baggage screeners nationwide.
Right now in
the House, there's a rigorous debate going on over which plan is
best. Republicans have a solid case; several experts believe a private
security force under extensive federal scrutiny similar to
systems now in place in Israel and Europe is the best way
to go. But in the Senate, there wasn't any real debate and
a 100-to-0 vote. Which leads to a question: Why did the solid conservative
Republicans of the Senate the Jon Kyls, the Mitch McConnells,
the Jeff Sessions, the Jesse Helms, the Don Nickles, and Trent Lotts
all go along with full federalization?
going to lose, and we didn't want to be against airline security,"
says one Senate aide. "The leadership counted up the votes."
"People just wanted to get this over with and passed,"
says another aide. "They knew they would never win, and there
was a sentiment that politically, it's just a loser."
might be true, it's also true that senators vote against bills all
the time, even when they know the bill will pass; that's how 60-40
votes happen. Why a unanimous vote on a bill that includes what
some experts believe is a terrible idea for baggage screening?
A third aide
points toward the White House. "Republicans and Democrats were
getting mixed signals from the administration about whether to federalize
or not," the aide says. In the days leading up to the vote,
there had been attempts to reach a compromise on the right degree
of federalization of airport security. There was some support for
a proposal under which the federal/nonfederal force would be split
in a 60-40 percent ratio. But no one knew precisely why that would
be a good idea. "These percentages were being arbitrarily thrown
out," says one aide.
With no firm
guidance from the White House, no clear vision of what the best
way to improve airport security would be, and increasing public
pressure to act (the final vote was held late in the afternoon of
October 11, the one-month anniversary of the terrorist attacks in
New York and Washington), the Senate Republican leadership decided
to punt. They agreed to a vote, and the Aviation Security Act was
rationalization was that the House was considering a real alternative
to the full-federalization bill. If that passes, there would be
a conference to reconcile the differences between the Senate and
House measures, and something better than full federalization will
likely emerge. But such a lopsided vote in the Senate makes it more
difficult for that to happen, even if the House passes a very good
bill. "When you go to conference, it would be much better to
have 40 negative votes [from the Senate]," says one of the
aides. "That makes it easier to get something in the middle.
But now, we don't have any legs to stand on."
With no way
to know how it will turn out, some in the Senate are still grumbling
about those mixed signals from the White House. While the administration
is said to fully support the House GOP version now, some Republicans
were disappointed over the weekend when the president talked up
the bill on Saturday, and the next day his chief of staff conceded
that the president would sign the Senate version if necessary. "That
frustrated a lot of Republicans around here," says another