Archive for Friday, July 30, 2004

Congress, Bush pressured to act on 9-11 report plans

July 30, 2004

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— Congress is eager to show voters it's acting on the Sept. 11 commission's call for overhauling intelligence agencies, but turf fights, partisan rivalries and the task's sheer complexity are sure to slow lawmakers' work.

Reflecting the momentum for change sparked last week by the commission's widely acclaimed final report, at least nine committees are planning more than 15 hearings in what is normally a sleepy August on Capitol Hill. The first is today, when the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hears from commission chairman Thomas Kean, a Republican, and his Democratic deputy, Lee Hamilton.

"My greatest fear is they'll rush something forward that's flawed, but each party says, 'I don't want to be the one who shoots this down,"' said James Carafano, who studies intelligence issues at the conservative-oriented Heritage Foundation.

Indeed, with White House and congressional control at stake in November -- and 9-11 panel members and relatives of attack victims promising to publicly lobby for change -- it would be tough for President Bush and lawmakers to do nothing.

Wrapping up a weeklong vacation on his Texas ranch, Bush on Thursday led a videoconference meeting of his working group on the Sept. 11 commission's recommendations.

Spokesman Trent Duffy said the group was making "great progress," but he would not elaborate on how close Bush was to receiving or approving executive orders implementing some recommendations.

Administration officials have said that presidential approval of some of the changes suggested by the commission could come by early next week.

Underscoring the political pressures, Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry has said that commission suggestions for a national intelligence director and an overarching counterterrorism center in the White House should be adopted immediately.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called House Democrats to an Aug. 10 meeting with commission members.

House leaders say they want bills ready in September, Senate leaders by Oct. 1. But they could meet stiff resistance from the CIA, Pentagon and other agencies, and lawmakers of both parties who stand to lose power.

Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., retiring chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a candidate to head the CIA, said it's tough to move quickly on such an issue. He said he could implement an intelligence overhaul in two months, "but you'd have to make me king to do it," Goss said.

The commission recommended creating a Cabinet-level national intelligence director to coordinate the work of the 15 agencies involved and their estimated $40 billion budget. It also proposed a national counterterrorism center to foster joint planning by those agencies, and more powerful congressional oversight committees.

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