DNC Says Bush Is Questioning Patriotism of 9/11 Heroes

By Michael L. Betsch | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The Democratic National Committee accuses President George W. Bush and Republicans of "making a direct attack" on the loyalty and patriotism of union members and civil servants, including those who put their lives on the line during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But a Republican National Committee spokesman said it's totally inappropriate to suggest that the president, in his effort to beef up homeland security, is somehow against the people on the front lines of providing that security.

In a memo this week to the Party faithful, the DNC criticized Bush for "falsely claiming" that Democrats are more interested in protecting special interests (labor unions) than they are in protecting the American people.

"Make no mistake about it," said the DNC memo - Republicans are attacking "the same kinds of people who were first on the scene after the Sept. 11 attacks."

The DNC specifically listed the following union members: "The courageous and selfless police officers and firefighters and EMS personnel; the hard-hats, government employees, and others who helped clean up the devastation and risked toxic exposure; the postal workers who lost their lives to anthrax attacks and the ones who continue on the front lines of potential biological attacks; the border patrol and customs agents who keep out potential terrorists and their weapons."

Democrats are still smarting over President Bush's recent comment that, "The Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people."

The president was criticizing Senate inaction on a bill establishing a new Homeland Security Department, and by "special interests," he meant labor unions - specifically, the union leaders who funnel rank-and-file dues to Democratic candidates.

Senate Democrats are holding up the Homeland Security Bill because they don't want to offend their labor union contributors by giving President Bush the one thing he insists upon - the flexibility to hire and fire homeland security workers.

As CNSNews.com reported earlier, the White House wants to establish a new personnel system that would give managers in the new department the flexibility to reward employees who perform above an "acceptable level of competence;" and it wants to restrict merit raises to those workers who show initiative or growth. It also wants to be easily able to fire incompetent employees.

President Bush calls this "management flexibility," but the term is anathema to labor unions, which generally distrust management.

The DNC rejects Bush's suggestion that Senate Democrats are catering to special interests. Instead, the DNC fired back that it is "fighting to protect workers whose job it is to protect us." Those workers, however, are all part of labor unions that support the Democratic Party.

The nation's largest police labor organization is not swayed by the Democrats' argument that the president wants to eliminate numerous civil service protections and severely diminish union bargaining rights of workers folded into a new Homeland Security Department..

Fraternal Order of Police Executive Director Jim Pasco agrees that the Senate's task of implementing a Homeland Security Department is complicated by politics - all that wrangling over "special interests."

Nevertheless, he says the personnel rules governing a new homeland security department should be a "relatively minor" issue for Senate Democrats and Republicans to decide.

According to Pasco, the vast majority of federal law enforcement officers already are prevented from having collective bargaining rights under Executive order. "So, it's not correct to suggest that this is going to deprive them of something," Pasco said. "They don't have them now. Clearly, they have nothing to lose."

Pasco said he's beginning to believe the Democrats are looking for any reason not to pass the Homeland Security Bill. He also notes that only a limited number of emergency personnel who would be included into the Department of Homeland Security would have any involvement in responding to the terrorist attacks.

For the DNC to suggest that the president's homeland security proposal is direct attack on the memories of the Sept. 11 heroes is just "not accurate," he said.

Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesman Kevin Sheridan called the DNC memo out of line.

"To wave the flag of the heroes of 9/11 is inappropriate," Sheridan said. "To say that one Party is the Party that supports the heroes of Sept. 11 -- the firefighters, the police officers and the EMT's - it's totally inappropriate."

Sheridan said it's unfortunate if the DNC is making a concerted effort to "pledge their allegiance to the unions" by claiming the president doesn't care about protecting the rights of the police officers and firefighters.

By his account, Republicans are making every effort to work with Democrats to achieve the best agreement for a Department of Homeland Security that does not eliminate the rights of any workers, including the heroes of Sept. 11.

"The Republican plan that we want to be able to allow the president to continue to have is the ability to manage the department and not have his hands tied by labor agreements that must be renegotiated every time the department needs to reorganize in any way," Sheridan said.

Sheridan said the president's proposal would not take away any currently existing workers' rights.