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US House Of Representatives Set to Debate New Intelligence Organization - 2004-10-06


The House of Representatives will soon debate major legislation to reorganize the U.S. intelligence system, as the Senate also moves toward a vote on a separate bipartisan intelligence reform bill. Although lawmakers all believe in the objective, Democrats and Republicans continue to passionately defend their methods for achieving it.

In the Senate, a bill supported by Democrats and Republicans makes its way to debate and a final vote. In the House, a bill Republicans crafted largely on their own with little involvement by Democrats, is on a similar course.

In daily tests of will, lawmakers from both parties hold dueling news conferences not so much aimed at persuading the other side, but at persuading Americans.

House Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, who accuses Democrats of using the intelligence reform bill as a political football says the Republican-crafted legislation will make the country safer.

"I believe this is a fair bill that reflects the will of the 9/11 Commission," he said. "I believe it reflects the will of Congress to protect the American people. And I believe it reflects the American people's resolve to win the war against terrorists."

As they have all week, House Democrats disagree and accuse Republicans of seeking to push their bill through with a minimum of debate.

"House Republicans stand alone as the only obstacle in the way of passing a 9/11 bill that will make America safer," said House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi.

Families of victims in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have appeared on Capitol Hill supporting either the bipartisan Senate bill on intelligence reform, or the one in the House.

Their comments reflect both the political divides in the country in this election year, as well as their own assessments of the recommendations by the 9/11 Commission that investigated the 2001 attacks.

Colette Lafuente, whose husband died in the World Trade Center in New York, made clear where she stands on controversial provisions that would give the government substantial new counter-terrorist powers.

"I would say that a bill that does not contain these provisions is nothing other than some kind of show to look like people are doing something when they are not really accomplishing anything at all," she said.

Peter Gadiel, who lost his son James in the World Trade Center, says the Senate version of intelligence reform legislation, which is supported by other 9/11 families, will lay the groundwork for another terrorist attack.

"They [other 9/11 families] do not oppose these provisions, but they have been in a sense blackmailed by people on the other side who don't want to see these things [tough new laws] see the light of day," he said. "What the Senate has proposed is like building a fort and leaving half the walls off."

In the Senate, the key sponsors of bipartisan 9/11 legislation say attempts by others to weaken that bill have not succeeded.

One of the main differences between Senate and House legislation involves whether to make public the amount of money the government spends each year on intelligence gathering.

After both the House and Senate approve their respective bills, negotiators from each chamber will have to work out compromise legislation, a process that promises its own difficulties.

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