- The Washington Times - Monday, June 17, 2002

A bipartisan proposal for an independent and impartial commission to investigate the September 11 terrorist attacks isn't quite impartial enough for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, wants to change the makeup of the proposed blue-ribbon panel to ensure it would have an equal number of members appointed by Republicans and Democrats.
The proposal, approved unanimously by the Democrat-led Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, calls for the president to appoint four members, the Senate majority leader to appoint five and the Republican speaker of the House to appoint five.
That would mean nine commission members appointed by Republicans and five by Democrats.
"I don't know that anybody looked as carefully at that particular issue as I would have liked," Mr. Daschle said. "The way you ensure that it's not partisan is that you provide, as we do with the ethics committees, an equal number of Democrats and Republicans and allow the membership to decide who the chairs are. That would guarantee nonpartisanship."
Instead, Mr. Daschle is proposing three members each appointed by the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, two each by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate, and two by the president a total of six Democratic and six Republican appointments.
When he introduced the proposal for a blue-ribbon panel, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, said he had crafted a commission designed to be "independent and impartial." His Republican co-sponsor, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said this week that he did not believe the commission as originally proposed lent itself to partisanship.
"You can't be too partisan, because you've got the Republicans in the majority in one house and Democrats in the other, so it's bound not to be," he said.
Mr. McCain said he is open to changing the plan, "except that I would insist on the president having a significant role" in choosing the members.
Whether the commission will be approved is still in doubt. The White House and House Republican leaders oppose the idea, saying a joint probe by the House and Senate intelligence committees is more appropriate.
Mr. Daschle, who was calling repeatedly for the commission a month ago, said this week he would propose changes in its composition, "if we took it up."
"I don't know how much steam there ever was" for the plan, he said.
In an effort to attract at least 60 votes for the plan, supporters of an independent commission are bringing groups to Washington to lobby for it. Last week, family members of the victims of the World Trade Center attack visited the Capitol.
"One way to do it is to bring these constituency groups to Washington so they can make their case," Mr. Daschle said.
Mr. McCain called the family members "pretty persuasive."
"It's just a matter of time," Mr. McCain said of the commission. "The pressure will mount, because there will be more revelations" of intelligence failures.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said he assumes the commission appointments would be equally divided between Republicans and Democrats "if you ever did one." But he opposes such a panel, saying that Congress has created six independent commissions in recent years on terrorism and aviation security and that those panels' recommendations were never implemented.
"Why have another commission do what has already been done?" he asked. "The problem isn't that we haven't studied it, it's that we haven't done anything about it."


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