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Congress Faces 9/11 Recommendations

By Suzanne Freeman | null null , null
Senator John McCain (right) shakes hands with 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 7, 2004. <br />(Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Wide World)
Senator John McCain (right) shakes hands with 9/11 commission chairman Thomas Kean on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, September 7, 2004.
(Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Wide World)

Tuesday, September 7, 2004—Congress returned to Capitol Hill today after a six-week summer break. But with only 19 working days left this year, will the House and Senate have time to act on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission?

If not, plans are already under way to hold a lame-duck session after the November 2 election.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota has high hopes for quick action during the short fall session.

"We need to put security first," Daschle said. "I don't think the Senate should be allowed to leave town until we have acted on all 41 of these recommendations."

A bill introduced in the Senate today was called a dream come true by 9/11 Commission chairman Thomas Kean, who also wants all of the commission's recommendations to become law.

The bill was introduced by a bipartisan team of Senators: Democrats Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Evan Bayh of Indiana, and Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. The House version of the bill will be introduced by Representatives Chris Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, and Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York.

In the Senate, Daschle and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, have temporaraily put aside their partisan differences to work for intelligence reform. Despite campaigning against each other in the upcoming elections, the two came together to appoint a 9/11 task force. The task force will consider changes in how congressional committees keep track of the intelligence community—one of the main recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.

"If you don't reform Congress, the reforms of the executive branch won't work," commission member Jamie Gorelick told Scholastic News Online. "Congress has to give up some turf as well."

Gorelick pointed out that 88 congressional committees currently oversee the Department of Homeland Security.

"The intelligence committees have only a minute portion of the decisions that are made," she said. "Defense committees would have to give up turf. There are dozens of different examples of how the structure in Congress doesn't work right."

Partisan efforts end there, however. Two rival bills will be introduced in the House before Saturday, the third anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. One of those bills is being introduced by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a Republican. The rival bill will be introduced by Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. If the Democrats win a majority of the seats in the House on Election Day, Pelosi would be in line for Hastert's job when Congress reconvenes in January.

The 9/11 Commission, which officially disbanded on August 21, plans to keep working to hold Congress's feet to the fire. The group has secured private funding to maintain a staff and to continue to travel and speak out about their recommendations.

Commission member James R. Thompson, a Republican, spoke to a Rotary club in St. Louis, Missouri, recently. He talked about the importance of pressuring Congress to act soon.

"If something bad happens, and it's traced back to a failure to put in place policies of the kind advocated in this book (The 9/11 Commission Report), the political punishment coming from the American people will be harsh indeed, and it may last for generations," he said.

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