WASHINGTON – House Republicans say legislation they introduced Friday will make America safer by including the Sept. 11 commission's (search) suggestions to improve intelligence, immigration and national security.
Democrats decried it as a partisan bill that expands government powers too far.
Speaker Dennis Hast (search)ert, R-Ill., called the 335-page proposal "the most comprehensive effort yet introduced that deals with the problems uncovered by the 9/11 commission."
The House Republican bill includes creation of a national intelligence director and counterterrorism center, new anti-terror and immigration enforcement powers, stronger identity theft and money-laundering preventive measures and other recommendations the GOP links to the report of the independent committee that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"The bill represents the best thinking of those most knowledgeable about the intelligence community and the problems that beset it," said Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Calif., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee (search).
Some lawmakers already are opposing the measure, saying Republicans refused to work with Democrats to develop a bill that would represent both sides.
"Instead of acting in a bipartisan manner, the Republican leadership is introducing a bill, written behind closed doors, that attempts to score partisan points and goes far outside the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission," said the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California.
"It's as if the commission's recommendations have been supersized with irrelevant fat and lard, representing a wish list of past reactionary proposals that would diminish our civil liberties," added Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
Two House members, Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Carolyn Mahoney, D-N.Y., say the House instead should be working on Senate legislation, which members of the Sept. 11 commission endorsed. That bill is being pushed by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, and the committee's ranking Democrat, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.
"We are seeking a vote on the House floor on a clean, bipartisan bill that is true to the spirit of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations," Shays and Mahoney said in a joint statement. "The Collins-Lieberman bill has been endorsed by the 9/11 Commission, and it deserves to be brought before the full House. "
The GOP legislation will be broken up and dealt with by different House committees next week. Hastert said he wants committee consideration finished by Friday.
"We plan on having this bill on the floor the week after," he said. "After that, we hope to complete work and send legislation to the president before the election."
Hastert said the new intelligence director would have "full budget authority" but would not be in complete control of the intelligence community's budget, contrary to the Sept. 11 commission's recommendation.
Similar to a plan offered by the president, the House bill says the intelligence director "shall develop and present" the intelligence budget to the president but only provide guidance to intelligence agencies when it comes to budget making. The director would participate in budget development for the military intelligence agencies and provide guidance for intelligence agencies outside of the National Intelligence Program.
The national intelligence director would also have to get approval from the White House's Office of Management and Budget to take funds or personnel from one area and move them to another.
The Sept. 11 commission called for the intelligence director to have full hiring and firing power over the intelligence community. Under the House bill, the national intelligence director would be able to nominate the CIA director, while nominations of the directors of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency would require the national intelligence director's concurrence.
However, the director would only have to be consulted on nominations for the Defense Intelligence Agency director and the intelligence directors at the FBI and the State, Treasury, Energy and Homeland Security departments.
The Senate will take up its version of the Sept. 11 commission recommendations next week, which deals mostly with creating the national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center. Senators expect to address other commission recommendations through amendments on the Senate floor.
If the House and Senate offerings differ, members of the two bodies must come together in a joint negotiating committee to come up with final language for a bill to be sent to President Bush for his signature.