With hopes all but completely faded for compromise on a final intelligence reform bill, families of victims of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks are blaming Congress and President Bush for failing to act before the U.S. election. Differences of opinion between two organizations representing families emerged during a Capitol Hill news conference
What was to have been a news conference by a single group of September 11th families turned into an airing of complaints by two organizations disagreeing over intelligence reform, and how best to achieve it.
Members of 9/11 Families for a Secure America took to the podium to insist that without provisions to enhance government powers on immigration, border control and law enforcement contained in a House bill, Congress should not rush to send a final version to President Bush before Election Day.
Collette La Fuente, whose husband died in the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Center on September 11, has appeared frequently with Republican House lawmakers pushing their version of intelligence reform:
"We are prepared to wait until after the election and I think that is important that we are prepared to wait. These provisions are so important in this bill, they are worth waiting for, they are worth fighting for," she said.
The founding director of another group, Voices of September 11th, disagrees.
Mary Fetchet, whose son was killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks, blames the Bush administration, Republicans in Congress, and the Defense Department for opposing a bipartisan Senate bill.
"Despite our continued vulnerabilities, the American public has been mis-led and mis-informed that our country is safer," Ms Fetchet said. "Facts have been manipulated, the truth has been spun, and real legislation that would make our families safer has become a political football."
Members of the independent September 11 Commission have urged congressional negotiators to remove controversial aspects of House legislation to achieve a compromise. The White House has opposed some of these, while praising other parts of both versions.
One commission member is stepping up his criticism of the Bush administration and the Republican House leadership.
Tim Roemer says Americans should use their votes on Election Day November 2 to demonstrate unhappiness should Congress fail to come up with a compromise bill, or the White House not exert enough pressure on lawmakers:
"If they don't get it done, if the president and the Congress cannot achieve this vital set of accomplishments and goals, then there should be blame and there should be accountability on Election Day," he said.
Besides immigration and law enforcement provisions, negotiations have also stalled over how much budget authority a National Intelligence Director created by new legislation would have.
The Republican lawmaker chairing the House-Senate conference, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, failed to appear at the news conference with September 11th families, adding to speculation that negotiations were not going well.
Confirmation came later from key Democratic negotiators who, while not ruling a possible compromise this week, acknowledged any final version will likely be left to a post-election lame duck session of Congress in mid-November.