WASHINGTON – Lawmakers are trying to move quickly to enact legislation on major intelligence reforms recommended by the Sept. 11 commission (search) before Congress wraps up its work for the year before the Nov. 2 election.
Sens. Joe Lieberman (search), D-Conn., and John McCain (search) , R-Ariz., introduced legislation on Tuesday that would implement all 41 recommendations made by the panel headed by Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton.
"The sweep of reform contained in the bill is broad and historic as it should be because the threats that confront us are broad and historic," Lieberman said of the 280-page bill during a press conference with McCain, co-sponsor Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and the commission chairmen.
"As the 9/11 commission documented, our intelligence institutions face an enemy without borders who can reach from around the world and make our homeland the frontlines of this war. If we reorganize and reform the enormous human and technological intelligence assets America has, as the commission has recommended, we will be able to see, hear and stop the terrorist attacks against us before they occur," Lieberman added.
On the Senate floor Tuesday, the first official day back after the August recess, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (search) seemed to be heaping pressure on Republicans, who control both chambers of Congress, to get moving on it.
"Every day the Congress spends not doing the 9/11 recommendations is a day we ignore the threat and neglect our most solemn duty as leaders. As Gov. Kean has said, 'We all think that if we do not act quickly we increase the risk to the American people. We all agree that the status quo is unacceptable,'" Daschle, of South Dakota, said, adding that lawmakers should not be permitted to leave town until the legislation is complete.
"Together, we have proven we can rise above politics in the national interest. It remains to be seen whether we can rise above bureaucratic inertia, turf jealousies and divisions within Congress and the executive branch to do the same," Bayh said at the press conference.
Bayh told Hd News that he thought the 41 recommendations are a good start to change the intelligence structure, and he would go even beyond the suggestions made. He added that he is concerned about the "lack of urgency" Congress is showing about getting the reforms passed as soon as possible.
McCain said he believes the legislation could pass as early as late September or early October, but suggested it may be a scaled-back version.
"Whether it's all-encompassing or ... partial will be directly related to the amount of internal resistance and that can only be overcome by public pressure," he said. Lieberman projected a Sept. 20 date for mark-up in the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee (search), of which he is ranking member. That would make the legislation available for consideration on the floor during the week of Sept. 27.
Despite claims of inaction, members in the House and Senate both spent an unprecedented chunk of time in August debating the findings of the commission in Washington, including its recommendation to create the position of a national intelligence director with broad budgetary control and the development of a national counterterrorism center.
On Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing in which members of the commission testified. The schedule for this hearing predated the August sessions, but illustrates how much of a premium Republicans and Democrats are putting on the intelligence issue before November.
While critics decry the lack of change since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, the secretary of homeland security said Tuesday that real and substantial progress has been made.
"Three years ago, some of our nation's most vital structures were protected by a 'no trespassing sign' planted on a firm fence. But now, we're taking information, mapping it against infrastructure, and quickly placing protections where they are needed most," DHS chief Tom Ridge said. "The scope is huge."
The intelligence issue isn't the only thing eating up the 19 remaining legislative days on Capitol Hill before the targeted adjournment, particularly for the Senate, which has yet to vote on 12 of the 13 appropriations bills that are supposed to be completed by the start of the 2005 fiscal year, Oct. 1.
Hd News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.