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Bush Adds to Competing 9/11 Legislation

By Suzanne Freeman | null null , null
President George W. Bush hosts a bipartisan meeting with members of the House and Senate in the Cabinet Room on Wednesday, September 8, 2004. <br />(Photo: © White House photo)
President George W. Bush hosts a bipartisan meeting with members of the House and Senate in the Cabinet Room on Wednesday, September 8, 2004.
(Photo: © White House photo)

Wednesday, September 8—President Bush met with a bipartisan group of senior Congressional members today to discuss the 9/11 Commission Report. He announced that he wants to work with Congress to create a national intelligence director who will have full budgetary powers over the nation's 15 intelligence agencies. In July, after the release of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, Bush had said he did not agree that the intelligence director should have complete budgetary powers.

"It's important we get our intelligence gathering correct," Bush told the 23 members of the House and Senate who attended the meeting. "After all, we're still at war. We've got to find the enemy before they hurt us. We've got to do everything we can to protect the homeland."

A Senate bill addressing the commission's recommendations was introduced yesterday. Two rival House bills are expected to be presented this week, just days before the third anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Bush said his staff is working on its own version of a bill to implement at least 36 of the commission's 41 recommendations.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs began hearing testimony today from FBI director Robert Mueller and acting CIA director John McLaughlin. The group will hold two hearings next week. Co-chair Senator Joseph Lieberman said his committee hopes to mark up the bill the week of September 20 and have it ready for action before September 27. The goal is to have a bill passed by October 1.

"I think we're going to get this done before anybody thinks about breaking for the campaign or the election," said Lieberman. Congress reconvened yesterday and has only 18 working days left before taking its traditional election break. The House and Senate are not scheduled to convene again until January, when newly elected members will be sworn in.

The job of passing legislation in such a short timeframe won't be easy, Lieberman said.

"There are going to be differences of opinion about these proposals, because the 9/11 commission has recommended and this bill would enact bold and comprehensive reform that changes the status quo, because the status quo in intelligence and diplomacy has failed us," he said.

The 9/11 Commission issued its recommendations in July after 18 months of hearing testimony and conducting research. The heart of the report criticized U.S. intelligence agencies for lack of inner-agency communication. Congress was criticized for its cumbersome oversight structure. More than 88 committees are appointed to study the different agencies and how they operate. The 9/11 Commission wants Congress to streamline its structure.

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