- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 30, 2004

House Rules Committee members have their hands full folding the four committee reports on the September 11 commission’s recommendations into one bill, with opposition lingering over key issues such as budget authority for a new intelligence director and immigration reforms.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence as well as the Government Reform, Judiciary and Armed Services committees produced their final drafts on Wednesday and submitted them to the Rules Committee, which is charged with crafting the omnibus September 11 bill for a floor vote next week. If approved, the legislation will move to a conference with Senate leaders.

Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier, California Republican, said no decision has been made on what goes and what stays in the final bill or the status of budget authority for the national intelligence director.

“I’m not sure yet,” Mr. Dreier said. “We have to weigh it all in and see what we come up with, but we’re looking forward to getting it done.”

House Democrats said they will continue to fight for removal of “anti-immigration” language introduced in the Judiciary Committee and for budget authority for the national intelligence director.

Mr. Dreier is unlikely to allow removal of the immigration reform measures.

He authored a bill this month that would enhance Social Security cards with photographs and add tougher enforcement penalties, some of which are in the September 11 bill.

Republicans sought to have consistent opposition to budget authority provisions for a proposed national intelligence director, but Government Reform Committee legislation provides such authority.

“This bill will transform the federal intelligence community by replacing a Cold War-era organization with a modern, nimble and flat structure that will improve our intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing capabilities,” said Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Government Reform Committee.

The other committees omitted the budget authority provision, taking their lead from the Bush administration. The White House wants more authority and flexibility to revamp the intelligence community to conform to needs in the war on terror.

House Democrats prefer the Senate’s intelligence reform bill sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat. The legislation includes few provisions beyond those recommended in the report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, and includes a national intelligence director with budget authority.

“The House Republican bill is too weak. If the national intelligence director is going to have real power, he or she must have stronger budget and hiring authority than that proposed [in the House bill],” said Rep. Jane Harman, California Democrat and the party’s ranking member on the House intelligence committee. “The only way to get a dozen intelligence agencies to work together to defeat terrorism is to have a single director with real power.”

Both Mrs. Harman and Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, attempted to substitute the Collins-Lieberman bill for the House bills in their respective committees.

Among the contested provisions are immigration proposals requiring federal employees to accept only valid, unexpired passports as proof of identity for foreign nationals.

Democrats also oppose provisions that would allow “expedited removal” of illegal aliens, judicial discretion to close deportation court proceedings to the public and more stringent standards for immigrants to claim rights to asylum from political and religious persecution.

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