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Republicans Unveil 9/11 Commission Legislation - 2004-09-24

Republicans in the House of Representatives have unveiled legislation they say will comprehensively reform the U.S. intelligence system. The move is the latest step in efforts to implement most if not all of the recommendations of the independent commission that investigated intelligence and security lapses leading to the September 2001 terrorist attacks.

Republicans in control of the House have set as their objective a final vote on an intelligence reform bill before lawmakers depart early next month to prepare for the November congressional and presidential elections.

Although they offered to work with opposition Democrats to formulate legislation, their version contains differences from a bipartisan measure proposed earlier by House Democrats, with support from some Republican members.

In putting forward the main Republican-sponsored bill Friday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert described it as the most effective piece of legislation introduced so far in response to the commission's findings.

"We wrote this bill to make sure that we have the best interests of the American people and the security of the American people at heart," he said. "We want to do the things we must do to catch terrorists and keep terrorists from attacking the American people. We did our best job in fulfilling what we think the commission report was and what the needs of this nation are."

But there may be trouble ahead regarding provisions to increase the powers of the government to track suspected terrorists thought to be sympathetic to terrorist groups.

Earlier this year, a Republican-sponsored effort to pass separate legislation to do this failed to get through Congress, amid opposition from civil liberty groups. The American Civil Liberties Union called the Republican 9/11 legislation divisive.

Also included in the Republican-sponsored bill: steps to crack down on those possessing or producing fake documents, and a proposal to step up pre-screening of travel documents of individuals traveling to the United States.

Democratic Congressman Jim Turner, spoke earlier this month in support of the competing bill put forward by House Democrats and Republicans. "Certainly there will be disagreements on the details, but the important thing is that at the end of the day, before adjournment of this Congress, to see a bill passed that implements all 41 of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations."

Next week, the Senate is scheduled to consider a bipartisan bill that also seeks to implement all 41 9/11 commission recommendations, including creation of a new national intelligence director with significant budget authority, and a national counter-terrorism center.

However, whatever measures are approved in both chambers, lawmakers must eventually resolve differences before a final bill can be sent to President Bush for his signature.

House speaker Hastert says he is prepared to work with the Senate in ironing out difficult issues that might delay sending a final bill to the president before the November 2nd election.

This all but assures that lawmakers will be called back after an anticipated October adjournment to vote on a reconciled version, and would enable President Bush to be seen as taking the politically important action of formally approving a response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks before Americans go to the polls.