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Democrats Assail Republican 9/11 Bill, Bush on Iraq - 2004-09-29

With less than two weeks before a pre-election adjournment date, more debates have broken out between Democrats and Republicans over the situation in Iraq, as well as legislation to implement recommendations of the independent commission on the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Each side of the 9/11 debate claims support from families of victims of the September 11 attacks. Each asserts its proposal comes closest to the findings of the independent commission that issued its findings two months ago.

No fewer than six House committees are considering legislation majority Republicans say represents the most comprehensive implementation of 9/11 commission recommendations to reform the U.S. intelligence system.

While conceding the Republican bill is not perfect, Congressman Peter Hoekstra, newly appointed Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, says it is the best method for responding to the 9/11 Commission.

"We critically reviewed the commission's findings and have faithfully attempted to provide the new national intelligence director with all of the authorities recommended by the commission, in the wake of the terrorist attacks upon the United States," said Mr. Hoekstra.

But, Democrats are livid with what they describe as a Republican effort to squelch debate and push through legislation that is too weak.

Democrats favor another bill, a version of which is now also working its way through the Senate, which has bipartisan support in the Senate as well as the House.

They say this bill meets all 41 of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, including creation of a new national intelligence director, and a national counter-terrorism center, while the Republican bill meets only 16 of the commission points.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi emerged from a strategy meeting with other Democrats to blast the Republican legislation.

"We have House Democrats, Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, House Republicans all of one mind on how we should approach this and we have the Republican leadership in the House in isolation, going their own weak way, again weak where we must be strong," she said.

During its consideration of the Republican 9/11 legislation, the House Judiciary Committee voted down a Democrat-sponsored alternative bill.

Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner defended the Republican version against Democratic allegations it is being forced down the throats of the Democratic minority.

"To say we are rushing into this, I think, is really a mis-representation because we have been working on this ever since the 9/11 Commission made its recommendations two months ago."

New York Democrat Anthony Weiner says that on the eve of a national election the Republican majority has an obligation to be as faithful to the commission report as possible.

"President Bush stood up and said he thought the report was excellent, members of both parties did; well now let's do it," he said. "How do we explain to victims of September 11 that we have this gut wrenching story that has been told to Congress, with a whole section of what to do, and we're not doing it?"

Democratic opposition focuses on law enforcement and immigration-related provisions in the House bill that would give the government more power against potential terrorists, a move Democrats say threatens to weaken civil liberties.

Senators and Congressmen will have to negotiate to resolve differences in versions that are approved by both chambers before a final measure can be sent to President Bush.

Key lawmakers say they have high hopes a compromise can be achieved. But lawmakers will likely have to return after an early October adjournment to approve a final version.

Meanwhile, House Democrats attempted to give Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry a boost on the eve of the first debate with President Bush, renewing a call for a senior Bush administration official, Paul Wolfowitz, to resign.

Washington state Democrat, Brian Baird, accused Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz of a record of grave mistakes and inaccuracy on Iraq in his testimony to Congress: "He has arrogantly refused to acknowledge these mistakes, or take steps to correct them and if he cares about the welfare of the United States and its armed forces, I believe it is time for our deputy secretary of defense to resign," he said.

A little over a month before the presidential election, Republican lawmakers are doing everything they can as Congress nears the end of its legislative session, to support the administration on Iraq and deflect Democratic criticisms.