WASHINGTON -- The GOP-controlled House yesterday 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 GOP 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.
House majority leader Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas, called the Senate measure "woefully insufficient." He said the House version is "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 Representative Carolyn Maloney, Democrat of New York.
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.
The GOP bill "is just too weak," said Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat. "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, Republican of Illinois, yesterday 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.