WASHINGTON – If Congress fails to pass the sweeping intelligence reform recommended by the Sept. 11 Commission,the blame will fall on President Bush and a few House Republicans,commission members and House lawmakers charged Tuesday.
“The President needs to be publicly engaged and not privately engaged,” said Rep. Christopher Shays,R-Conn. “The White House is neutering itself if it is not willing to publicly confront members of Congress who disagree with it.”
“I can't imagine the president would want to be sworn in knowing that he let down the families of 9/11,knowing that he let down his country,” Shays said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
The House and the Senate have passed different versions of the commission's recommendations. Lawmakers are trying to broker a deal so they can send a bill to White House during Congress' lame-duck session,which began this week.
Leaders from each side – Sens. Susan Collins,R-Maine,and Joe Lieberman,D-Conn.,and Reps. Jane Harman,D-Calif.,and Pete Hoekstra,R-Mich. – met in House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office Tuesday.
John Feehery,Hastert's spokesman,said the negotiators have been working late into the night and he's confident they will broker a deal this week.
The 500-page bills differ chiefly on the power of the national intelligence director,a new position the commission recommended to oversee the nation's 15 intelligence agencies.
The Senate bill gives the national intelligence director control over the intelligence budget,as recommended by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. The House bill allows the Department of Defense to keep control of most of the budget.
A spokeswoman for House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter,R-Calif.,one of the leaders of the opposition to the Senate bill,said Hunter is concerned that,if the intelligence director has budget authority,troops and commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan will have less say in how intelligence money is allocated.
“His primary concern is that it will endanger their security,” said Carrie Sloan.
But an intelligence director without control of the intelligence budget “would in fact create more unnecessary bureaucracy,” said Richard Ben-Veniste,a member of the commission.
At a separate event Tuesday,911 Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said he's optimistic Congress will reach a deal before it adjourns.
“I think a lot of progress has been made. The two sides are really quite close together on all of the key issues,” he said.
But Shays says the president should publicly press House Republicans to compromise to ensure a deal is reached.
A White House spokesman could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Family members of those who died in the Sept. 11,2001,attacks surrounded lawmakers at the news conference. They brandished signs such as,“Congress – don't leave until you're done.”
Carrie Lemack,29,of Boston,whose mother was aboard one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center in New York,said it's unacceptable that Congress hasn't sent a reform bill to the president four months after the commission made its recommendations.
“The American people deserve better than this,” she said. “My mother deserves better than this.”