updated 10/8/2004 12:16:06 AM ET 2004-10-08T04:16:06

The GOP-controlled House on Thursday refused to endorse a Senate proposal addressing the Sept. 11 commission’s terror-fighting recommendations, pushing ahead with a bill that would increase law enforcement powers but force Congress to work overtime to send legislation to President Bush.

The House voted 213-203 to reject a version of a bill that passed the Senate 96-2 on Wednesday, with Republican leaders saying their bill does more to address the Sept. 11 commission’s complaints that the country’s intelligence and national security structure needs to be improved to prevent further attacks.

In addition to creating a national intelligence director and a national counterterrorism center, the House bill would expand powers to fight terrorism, illegal immigration and identity theft and tighten border security.

While House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, called the Senate measure “woefully insufficient.” He said the House version is “the bill that calls a war a war and a terrorist a terrorist.”

Democrats — and some Republicans — wanted the House to go along with the Senate legislation. It would create a national intelligence director but does not go as far with some of the enhanced authority to fight terrorism.

These lawmakers said the law enforcement and immigration proposals were included to force Democrats into a difficult, election-year vote. “Adding controversial unrelated provisions to the law makes it harder to get ... a bill to the president’s desk,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

They also complained that the House’s version of the intelligence director wasn’t strong enough to control all of the nonmilitary intelligence agencies, unlike the version inside the Senate legislation.

Intel director's power
The GOP bill “is just too weak,” said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas. “The national intelligence director would not have the minimum necessary control over funding and appointment of officials or personal assignments. For example, if the national intelligence director can’t hire and fire people, they don’t really work for him or her.”

While the White House endorsed the House GOP bill — just as it did with the Senate bill — the administration also said that the legislation did not give the intelligence director enough power and that it was opposed to making it easier to deport illegal aliens to countries where they claim they would be tortured. That provision was expected to be removed by House leaders.

“The administration looks forward to working with the House and Senate in conference as they resolve their differences on intelligence reform legislation so that it can be enacted as soon as possible,” the Bush administration said in a statement.

If the House and Senate pass competing bills, congressional negotiators would have to reconcile the differences. Should they fail to approve an overhaul before adjourning, lawmakers probably would return to the Capitol before Election Day and consider a compromise bill — if there is one.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., on Thursday promised some families of Sept. 11 victims that a bill would get to President Bush before the election, said Beverly Eckert of the Family Steering Committee for the Sept. 11 Commission.

Eckert also said Hastert promised that if there were items that “impede the progress of the bill, they would be considered in a later Congress.”

Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the speaker was indicating a willingness to negotiate when House and Senate leaders meet to reconcile the two bills.

'Useful and modest'
The Senate on Thursday also rejected the Sept. 11 commission’s suggestion for internal reorganization, despite commissioners’ complaints that the system was “dysfunctional.”

The commission urged lawmakers to combine policy and spending powers inside the Senate Intelligence Committee. But the Senate wants to eliminate term limits for committee members, create a new Appropriations subcommittee for intelligence and turn the Governmental Affairs Committee into a Homeland Security Committee and give it additional powers.

Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., said, “A long-standing lesson in the U.S. Congress that we have observed, I think wisely, is that it is inefficient and undesirable to mix policy legislation with appropriation legislation.”

The commission is calling the Senate plan “useful and modest” but “not as far-reaching” as its recommendations.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tried to win approval of the plan to consolidate intelligence appropriations and authorization in the Intelligence Committee. He was on the losing end of a 74-23 vote.

“We’re not talking about a turf battle,” McCain said. “We’re not talking about who’s going to do what or who’s going to have the power of the purse. We’re talking about the security that the American people want and need according to the 9/11 commission.”

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