WASHINGTON – House GOP leaders braced Thursday for a late-session showdown with the Senate over conflicting versions of legislation written in response to the terror-fighting recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission (search).
Republicans leaders say the House version, which includes creation of a national intelligence director as well as anti-terrorism, illegal immigration, border-security and identity-theft powers, is the best bill and should be the one that prevails.
"It's real simple. The House bill — every single word of it — will make the American people safer," House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, proclaimed as Congress neared the time for lawmakers to leave for the campaign hustings.
An earlier version of the Senate-passed bill — which was to be offered Thursday by Rep. Robert Menendez, D-N.J. and has been pushed by Reps. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. — was being presented as a replacement for the House GOP bill.
Shays and Maloney says their proposal — which is identical to the Menendez amendment — was held back to that GOP leaders could depict the Senate version as being a purely Democratic on the House floor.
"I know my leadership thinks it's not going to pass or they wouldn't have allowed the vote," Shays said. "That shows their level of confidence. I hope we prove them wrong."
Minority Democrats contend the law enforcement and immigration provisions that were included the GOP leadership bill were put there to force Democrats into a difficult, election-year vote that could have political consequences.
"Adding controverisal unrelated provisions to the law makes it harder to get a conference report and a bill to the president's desk," Maloney said Thursday.
The House plans to have something finished before the end of the week, and that bill would have to be reconciled with the one that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Wednesday.
On a 96-2 vote, senators also approved the creation of a national intelligence director (search) who would coordinate most of the nation's nonmilitary intelligence agencies and a national counterterrorism center (search) to help fight terrorist plots.
"Those two provisions are the key recommendations of the 9/11 commission," said GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who shepherded the bill with Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. "We want to make sure that the new national intelligence director is able to marshal the funds, the people and the resources to counter the threat of terrorism and other emerging threats."
President Bush applauded the vote in a statement and called on the House to follow suit quickly with its own legislation. He didn't endorse one version over the other.
"This legislation is another important step forward as we do everything in our power to defeat the terrorist enemy and protect the American people," Bush said of the Senate bill.
Unlike in the House, the Collins-Lieberman bill faced little opposition from either side in the Senate although many supporters of the Pentagon and the intelligence community wanted it changed to preserve power for their committees or those agencies.
"Some of our colleagues who started out most skeptical or opposed to what we were doing ended up supporting the proposal because they believed it was right," Lieberman said. "I look forward to the House Senate conference with the same kind of optimism. The fact is that there's an urgency to do something."
The 9/11 commission contended that the 15 military and civilian intelligence agencies' failure to cooperate precluded an effective defense that might have prevented the 2001 terror attacks on New York City and Washington. The panel recommended creating a position of national intelligence director to control and coordinate all the agencies.
In addition, the commission called for more safeguards at home, such as setting national standards for issuance of drivers' licenses and other identification, improving "no-fly" and other terrorist watch lists and using more biometric identifiers to screen travelers at ports and borders.