Pressure Mounts Over 9/11 Bill

U.S.A. American Intelligence Agencies Agency
Members of the 9/11 Commission are again pressing Congress to adopt their recommendations for overhauling the nation's intelligence apparatus, CBS News Radio correspondent John Hartge reports.

Commission members gathered in Washington, D.C., Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass the stalled intelligence reform bill. They met with Vice President Dick Cheney, and, from Canada, President Bush planned talks with leaders of Congress in an attempt to gain passage for an intelligence reorganization bill this year.

Speaking in Ottawa, Bush said he plans to discuss the bill later this week with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

"I want a bill," Bush said. "Let's see if I can say it as plainly as I can: I am for the intelligence bill."

The House reconvenes Dec. 6 to fix an appropriations bill in a session expected to take a few hours at most. The Senate would return the next day only if a deal is reached on the intelligence bill.

The controversial bill is in the form of conference report, and is being held up on Capitol Hill by mostly Republican Congress members who fear some of the new provisions in the bill could harm military operations by interfering with current intelligence priorities. Some members have said they specifically fear that the legislation would transfer budget authority away from the Department of Defense and to the National Intelligence Director, which could weaken intelligence for the U.S. military.

Former New Jersey Governor and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean told reporters if this bill does not pass, the safety of the American people might be in jeopardy.

"The American people will be safer if we get the provisions of this bill into law and it will be less safe if the Congress goes home without doing it because it can be six to nine months, who knows, before the Congress gets the chance again to consider these kinds of recommendations," Kean said.

But dueling forms of such legislation are in committee. And, according to Congressional Quarterly, two groups of 9/11 family members held competing press conferences Tuesday arguing passage of different pieces of legislation.

Former Democratic Congressman and Vice Chairman Lee H. Hamilton said at a press conference: "we would not support a bill that undercuts our troops."

Chairman Kean went on to remind those putting the brakes on passage of the bill in Congress that the "status quo failed us. The status quo does not provide our leaders with the information they require to keep the American people safe."

Where were the Republicans while the commotion over 9/11 legislation arose on The Hill? According to CQ's report, Republican leaders huddled Tuesday at a resort in southeastern Virginia to map out a strategy for dealing with the stalled intelligence bill.

The 9/11 Commission issued its report July 22 in hopes that Congress would devise a bill that included the recommendations made by the bi-partisan commission. The President has said that he supports the new Intelligence bill and hopes Members of Congress will come together and pass the current version before the end of the year. If the bill is not passed this year, members will most likely start from scratch by re-proposing the legislation next year.

Hamilton warned, "The window of opportunity for reform will not stay open long. We must not let this moment pass."