WASHINGTON – House Republican leaders on Friday easily pushed through sweeping new law enforcement powers as part of a Sept. 11 anti-terrorism package, but the House now must negotiate a truce with the Senate on those measures to get President Bush's signature before the elections.
The House voted 282-134 to approve the GOP leaders' bill to create a new national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center as recommended by the 9/11 commission. But they also included new government anti-terrorism, deportation, border security and identity theft powers to the bill that the Senate had rejected.
The two sides will now come together to try to find a middle ground before Election Day, Nov. 2, Congress' Republican leaders said.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee said in a joint statement that House and Senate negotiators would be appointed quickly and instructed "to begin working to reconcile the two bills expeditiously."
After negotiators agree on a compromise, the leaders said, "we will bring both houses back into session to vote on it and send it to the president for his signature."
_ Stalled on passing a $136 billion corporate tax bill when lawmakers upset about tobacco regulation, new overtime rules and combat pay employed delaying tactics to keep the measure from coming up for a vote.
_ Prepared to authorize $447 billion for defense programs for the fiscal 2005 budget year that began Oct. 1. The legislation was awaiting final votes by the House and Senate.
_ Hit a roadblock on a bill providing $11.8 billion in relief to hurricane victims and $2.9 billion for farmers hit by drought, floods and other emergencies because of an argument over a milk support program dear to dairy farmers in Upper Midwest presidential battleground states.
Hastert earlier assured families of Sept. 11 victims that Congress would agree to something for the White House to sign despite major differences between the House and Senate bills. "I have a simple message for them: We will get this job done. The process will work," Hastert said Friday.
"I think there is a huge desire to get that done before the election, if possible, and certainly before the end of the year as an outside time for that," added Rep. Thomas Davis, R-Va.
But House leaders also say they plan to fight to save most of their bill. In addition to creating a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center, the House bill would expand powers to fight terrorism, illegal immigration and identity theft and tighten border security.
House members added a provision Friday allowing U.S. authorities to deport foreigners under the same terrorism regulations that can keep them out. They also tempered an amendment that would have made it easier to deport illegal immigrants to countries accused of torture by instead added a provision to detain them indefinitely.
"This is the bill that will help America stay one step ahead of the men who, if they could, would kill every last one of us, regardless of party, race, creed, or color," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas. "This is the bill that will help us defeat an enemy, win a war, and secure a future of freedom for our children."
None of those provisions are in the Senate bill, which the opponents of the GOP bill presented to the House but failed to get approved. The Senate bill more faithfully follows what the commission wanted and does not divide lawmakers down partisan lines the way the legislation crafted by House Republicans does, Democrats, and some Republicans, said.
"Ultimately the American people are going to win, but right now you don't get a sense of that," said Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut.
These lawmakers said the law enforcement and immigration proposals were included to force Democrats into a difficult election-year vote, and the GOP bill does not fully implement the 9/11 commission's recommendations.
Despite knowing they would lose and saying earlier she would watch House-Senate negotiations closely, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., failed in a last-ditch attempt to force House members to take the Senate bill. "We need to act now," she said. "We have this window of opportunity, and we need to take it."
But Democrats knew they shouldn't vote against the final bill with elections coming up, Davis said. "If you look at the final vote, that's really the vote that's more reflective of what the members are willing to go home and take a position on," he said.
While the White House endorsed the House GOP bill, as it did the Senate version, the Bush administration also said both provisions still need work.