WASHINGTON – House Republicans are using legislation implementing the Sept. 11 commission's (search) recommendations as a Christmas tree for unrelated partisan proposals, Democrats charged Wednesday as House committees began wading through the GOP bill.
The disputed proposals would increase police powers and implement new anti-immigration measures such as denying immigrants certain court appeals and allowing more people to be arrested on accusations of supporting a terrorist group.
"This bill is a brew of extraneous anti-liberty proposals long sought by the attorney general, John Ashcroft," said Rep. John Conyers (search) of Michigan, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
House Republicans argue, however, that passing legislation that strictly deals with just reorganizing the intelligence community would be useless.
The GOP says it should include provisions creating new anti-terror and immigration enforcement powers, stronger identity theft and money-laundering preventive measures and other recommendations are linked to the report of the independent committee that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"If all the 9/11 commission recommendations that are enacted have to do with the restructuring of how intelligence is collected and disseminated, and we don't deal with law enforcement and immigration issues, we basically can peel off the back part of the 9/11 commission recommendation and say that things are fine and we can do business as usual," said House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (search), R-Wis.
But Democrats on five separate House committees that met Wednesday called for the GOP to pull out of the bill anything that isn't directly related to the 9/11 commission's recommendations. They unsuccessfully tried to strip those provisions or to introduce bills more closely mirroring the 9/11 report.
"There are many provisions in this bill that have no relation or tangential relation to the 9/11 commission report," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. "We should consider them in a bill separate from this."
Intelligence Committee Democrats unsuccessfully tried to strip a provision that would allow the CIA director -- now Porter Goss, who until last month was the panel's chairman -- to ascend to the new intelligence chief's job if it is created.
Democrats, however, did win amendments to create an independent civil liberties board and to strike a provision that members feared would give the White House the power to undo intelligence reforms it didn't want.
Five House committees feverishly worked Wednesday to get legislation to the House floor to meet House Speaker Dennis Hastert's Friday deadline. Hastert wants a final bill on the House floor next week to be approved by the House before going home for elections.
The White House and congressional Republicans and Democrats all agree that Congress should set up a national intelligence director and counterterrorism center before going home for the year, but they don't agree on how it should be set up.
The Senate, now considering its own version, also wants to be done before the election, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., noted Wednesday that there were more than 300 potential amendments to the bill produced by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Senators easily beat back an amendment sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., that would give a new national intelligence director control over the military's intelligence agencies, the first salvo in the fight between the intelligence community's supporters and the military's supporters.
"As long as the secretary of defense directs the day to day activities of these agencies, the new national intelligence director will continue to struggle within a structure that undermines his ability to succeed as the leader of the intelligence community," said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
But Senate Governmental Affair chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, said lawmakers had agreed to leave the military tactical intelligence agencies under control of the Pentagon. "We do not want to sever the link between these agencies and the secretary of defense," she said.
The amendment was voted down 78-19. The Senate also voted down attempts to set limits on how long the intelligence director could serve.