Thu Aug 15, 2:56 PM ET
By Arshad Mohammed
MOUNT RUSHMORE NATIONAL MEMORIAL, S.D. (Reuters) - President Bush ( news - web sites) accused the Democratic-led Senate on Thursday of tying the hands of his proposed Homeland Security Department while Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said the U.S. president was seeking "dictatorial powers" over the agency.
With the stern granite faces of four presidents gazing down from the Mount Rushmore monument, Bush suggested the Senate was placing dangerous limits on his ability to protect the nation through the planned 170,000-strong agency whose creation he proposed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"I need the flexibility to be able to look at the American people and say we're doing everything we can to protect the homeland against an enemy that hates us," Bush said forcefully to an audience that included Daschle.
Daschle, who stood listening with his hands folded in front of him as Bush spoke, later accused the president of seeking "dictatorial powers," particularly in the freedom to fire government employees and the right to move money around the government without congressional approval.
The South Dakota Democrat told reporters that Senate Democrats did not want to "give this president or any president the dictatorial powers that I think compromise the checks and balances that our founding fathers recognized."
Asked what he meant, Daschle replied: "The ability to fire an employee on the spot. The ability to move resources without any congressional approval from one agency or another. Those are powers that no president has had and we don't think this one should have them either."
The Republicans and Democrats are sparring over the protections the proposed department's employees would enjoy and the administration's ability to move money around in its effort to prevent further attacks on the United States.
SUPPORT FOR THUNE
Bush also used his visit to the 60-foot (18 meter) busts of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into Mount Rushmore to promote Rep. John Thune of South Dakota, a fellow Republican running in a tight race for the Senate in the Nov. 5 election.
The president hopes Thune will beat Sen. Tim Johnson, who also attended the speech, helping the Republicans retake the Senate and tossing Daschle from the majority leader's office.
"I appreciate you leadership and your friendship," Bush told Thune at the start of his speech.
Control of the Senate is vital to Bush's policies. The Republican-led House of Representatives approved legislation to create a Homeland Security Department to Bush's liking but the Senate has yet to do so and a version approved by committee does not provide many of the powers Bush wants.
Democrats support merging all or parts of 22 federal agencies into a single department to better protect the nation after the Sept. 11 attacks, but they argue Bush's plan will gut the union and civil service rights of government workers.
In his speech, Bush said the Senate's homeland security bill would take away an authority held by every president since Jimmy Carter to exempt agencies from collective bargaining requirements if this were in the national security interest.
He also said it would impose bureaucratic rules that would slow down hiring people for the new department, would make it difficult to reward them with bonuses for good work and prevent the government from moving money around to fight new threats.
While saying Congress was making some progress on the legislation, Bush said: "I'm a little worried about some of the noise I hear. I don't want our hands tied so we cannot do the number one job you expect, which is to protect the homeland."
After a two-day Midwestern swing in which he raised money for Republicans in Wisconsin and Iowa, Bush returns to his Crawford, Texas, ranch on Thursday to resume his four-week working vacation that included this week's Waco economic summit. He returns to Washington around Labor Day on Sept. 2.