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White House Blocks Deal

by Congress on 9/11 Panel

by David Firestone, New York Times, 11 October 2002


WASHINGTON, Oct. 10 -- Hours after Congressional Republicans and Democrats announced that they had agreed on the terms of an independent commission to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House raised fresh objections late today and held off on a final agreement.

If the disagreement is not resolved in the few days before the Congressional session ends, the commission, which some people said would be the government's most comprehensive look at the lessons of the attacks, could be postponed until next year. It is possible that the panel would not be created at all.

The collapse of the agreement was a surprise to the four senators and two representatives who had announced at a news conference with great fanfare that the commission would be created.

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, issued a statement tonight saying that he was "surprised and disappointed" that the White House had undercut the deal. The staffs of several other lawmakers seethed that their bosses had been embarrassed.

Congressional officials said the White House raised last minute objections to the even split between Republicans and Democrats on the 10-member commission and also wanted to limit the scope of the panel's inquiry and its life span. But some officials said they feared the real White House objection was to having a commission at all.

"I worry that the White House is trying to do the slow roll and pull the carpet over the commission at the end of the session," said Representative Tim Roemer, the Indiana Democrat who has championed the investigation. "But I'm hopeful there's enough bipartisan support to create this."

The accord that had been announced would have created a panel that could take up to two years to conduct its inquiry and would allow a virtually unlimited investigation into intelligence, law enforcement, commercial aviation, diplomacy and immigration controls.

Two Republican senators, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama and John McCain of Arizona, had joined two Democrats, Mr. Lieberman and Bob Graham of Florida, to announce the pact, along with two House members, Nancy Pelosi of California and Mr. Roemer, also Democrats.

The legislation had originally been tied to a Senate bill to create a Homeland Security Department that is stalled in the Senate. Under the agreement that was announced, the commission would have been created in a spending bill for the intelligence agencies, a measure that could easily pass both houses.

The various parties had been prodded to examine the attack by families of victims, and a spokesman for the families accused the White House of secretly trying to kill the panel even while publicly calling for its creation.

"The White House is trying to kill this, trying to run out the clock so we don't have a commission," said Stephen Push, whose wife was aboard the plane that flew into the Pentagon. "It's really disturbing that Ari Fleischer said today he thought it was so important to have a commission and then to find out they're doing everything they can to kill it."

Mr. Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said earlier today that Congress should not leave town without creating the panel. Another spokesman, Scott McClellan, said tonight that the White House was pleased with the progress that had been made and hoped that a consensus could be reached soon.

The accord called for a panel of 10 private citizens of "national recognition" with backgrounds in public service, law enforcement, commerce and foreign affairs. Four would be appointed by Democratic leaders in the House and Senate and four by Republican leaders. One co-chairman would be appointed by the president, and a second co-chairman by the Democratic leader of the Senate in consultation with his counterpart in the House.

The commission's initial report would be due six months after its first meeting, and a final report up to a year and a half later.

Copyright © 2002 The New York Times Company
Reprinted for Fair Use Only.

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