WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate will most likely be unable to vote for at least two weeks on a labor-supported bill that would force President Bush to try to help end the bitter Eastern Airlines strike.Republicans staved off Democratic efforts to consider the House-passed measure quickly Thursday night, arguing that the issue is so complex that it should be studied for at least a week by a Senate committee. Bush has opposed the bill and his aides have said he would veto it.
Floor debate was under way Friday, but GOP lawmakers made it clear that they would use Senate rules to block any vote at least until the chamber returns from its two-week Easter recess, which begins tonight.
"I don't say there'd be a filibuster, but the debate will be intense, and I think there are a lot of different views," said Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also planned to examine legislation that would allow Eastern's creditors to have access to the assets of the airline's parent company, Texas Air Corp., which also owns Continental Airlines.
Eastern, which has said it has lost $4 million daily since the walkout began March 4, filed five days later for protection from its creditors under the bankruptcy code. Under current law, people owed money by Eastern can only be repaid with Eastern's assets.
The legislation before the full Senate would require Bush to name an emergency board to recommend a solution to the strike, and would impose a cooling-off period of up to 26 days during which the airline's employees would receive pre-strike wages.
Bush has argued the dispute between Eastern and its unions, which has built up over 17 months, should be settled directly between the two sides. Supporters of the measure have argued that a presidential board could present a proposal each side could agree to without appearing to give in to the other.
After hours of closed-door meetings between Democrats and Republicans ended late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, tried to commence debate on the measure, arguing that steps should be taken to end the two-week old walkout.
"The cooling-off period won't hurt. It will help," said Mitchell. "What would hurt is further delay and further inaction."
Republicans countered that more study was needed. "To just ram this thing down on the floor, I think, is just rushing blindly into a situation where we might doom any potential Eastern has to save itself at all," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.