Urgency, Washington style

The Democrats try to implement more recommendations from the 9/11 Commission.

By Tim Grieve
Published January 8, 2007 8:53PM (EST)

It's always a little unsettling to be inside the U.S. Capitol: Every empty corner, it seems, is stuffed with a case holding protective hoods to be used in case of an attack involving chemical or biological weapons. What's more unsettling still: to stand in a hallway in the Capitol and hear 9/11 Commission co-chair Lee Hamilton call the implementation of his commission's recommendations a "question of urgency."

Urgency?

As Nancy Pelosi observed at a press conference with Hamilton and others this afternoon, the attacks of 9/11 happened more than five years ago. The 9/11 Commission issued its public report more than two and a half years ago.

What has happened since? As former 9/11 Commissioner and Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer said at Pelosi's press conference, the 108th Congress adopted about half of the commission's recommendations. The 109th Congress -- the one that just left town -- did "absolutely nothing."

As for the 110th? Pelosi and other Democrats campaigned on the promise that they'd adopt the 9/11 Commission recommendations that the Republican-controlled Congress didn't. And to their credit, they're making quick progress toward that goal, if the word "quick" can be used to describe action on recommendations made nearly three years ago. In the House Tuesday, the Democrats will push through 9/11 legislation that would change the insane way federal terrorism funding is now distributed -- sorry, Wyoming, but New York really is a bigger target that deserves a bigger share of the money -- and address the disjointed nature of congressional oversight over the intelligence community.

Still, the Democrats' measure isn't everything the 9/11 Commission wanted. As Hamilton explains, Congress will have adopted "almost all" of the commission's recommendations if the Democrats' bill gets through Congress and the president. Among the things the Democrats' plan doesn't address is the commission's concern that too many committees are involved in oversight of homeland security. The Democrats' plan also stops short of what the commission wanted the House to do on intelligence oversight: Merge the House oversight and appropriations committees so that intelligence agencies will know that blowing off inquiries from the overseers could have an impact on the amount of money that ends up in their budgets. Instead, the Democrats' legislation will create a third committee, a hybrid oversight-appropriations committee. Hamilton and Roemer both praised the plan as an impressive compromise and a huge step forward even if it's less than the commission wanted.

Asked how the Democrats intend to fund the various programs included in the new 9/11 legislation without increasing deficit spending, Pelosi said that she was confident that Congress would find cuts elsewhere in order to pay for the implementation of the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. The "protection of the American people," she said, is "a very high priority." We'd like to think that goes without saying -- indeed, we'd like to think that Pelosi's comment was a bit of an understatement -- but the history of the last five years would only prove us wrong.


Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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