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Democrats Move 9/11 Commission Recommendations Forward

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The House of Representatives acted on H.R. 1 last evening, moving to enact all but two of the 9/11 Commission recommendations that Republicans ignored and left to languish. The debate that lasted nearly five hours and consisted mostly of Republicans complaining about the way the bill was being pushed through. It wasn't passed through committee and wasn't eligible for amendments, but that didn't stop House Republicans from trying to change it anyway.

A motion to recommit H.R. 1 with instructions was made and a vote taken at 6:54PM EST, which failed 198-230, mostly along party lines. A motion to recommit means that the bill would have been sent back to committee for consideration, something the Republicans wanted to have happen originally and is something that happens most of the time unless it's a bill the majority doesn't want tampered with. The instructions were to send the bill right back to the House floor with amendments attached -- amendments that would have gutted many important provisions of the bill and otherwise made it pointless. It would have been like having a bill that made red the official color of Congress, only to have an amendment attached that forbid the official color from being red.

Republicans didn't have very many options open to them in stopping this bill and used most of their time, as I said, to complain about the process. With each side given equal time, the Democrats spent quite a bit of time reminding Republicans that this kind of behavior was exactly what Democrats and suffered through for 12 years, and also that Republicans had years to implement these recommendations in ways that favored them and made their amendments today unnecessary.

Another vote as held at at 7:12PM on the bill itself, which saw passage succeed by 299-128, meaning nearly 60 Republicans had voted for it.

Some of the Republican complaints had merit in my opinion. Requirements for port container examination to reach 100% were specifically unfunded in the bill, meaning it would be left up to private enterprise to foot the bill, or nothing would happen. With the financial instability of the airline industry, it has been acknowledged that it is unreasonable to expect them to pay for additional cargo screening without federal assistance.

Two very important advancements that Republicans seemed to care absolutely nothing about are present in this bill which make me a very happy person. Airports will be required to have at least one individual who can field complaints about the TSA watch list, and the "Protection of Civil Liberties Act." The government has proven time and time again that when trusted at its word, that trust will be abused. The 9/11 Commission suggested the creation of an independent board that would have oversight and investigative powers that allowed it to ensure the government was complying with all applicable privacy laws. The Republican Congress implemented this recommendation but with reservations that made it nothing more than a puppet for them to point at to show that they care about privacy and civil liberties, but only a little, and only when it was most convenient for them to do so.

The problem is, protecting civil liberties and privacy often clash with times and situations when it is least convenient, and those protections ultimately must prevail. When Republicans enacted this recommendation, they placed the oversight board directly under the thumb of the office of the President, meaning that board answered to the President's whims, and his alone. This made it entirely impossible for the board to act in a way that was contrary with the personal wishes of the President himself, which could order the board to remain quiet without justification and without any repercussions.

This act in H.R. 1 effectively places the oversight board as an independent agency, still within the Executive Branch, but not within the office of the President. The President can no longer arbitrarily order the board to do as he wishes, and the board is no longer appointed entirely by the President himself. All positions are now Senate confirmable, and requires the President to consult with the House and Senate leadership of the opposite party, if the person he wishes to appoint is not of his own party. There is also a stipulation that board members may not serve the government in any other capacity while a member, a six-year term limit, and perhaps most important of all, the board has been granted subpoena power to facilitate investigations.

Before now, the board consisted of people that were friendly to the President's way of thinking, and had no power beyond simply asking for documents and information to preform its job. Now all members must be confirmed by the Senate and the board can legally demand documents from virtually anyone and any place. The board now must also make regular reports to Congress.

H.R. 1 is an extensive piece of legislation that would take many pages and hours to examine and report on, so I suggest you just dig in and read for yourself if you're interested in learning more about what is going to be changed.

This is not final passage and this bill has not yet been made law, it has only been passed as written by a strong majority of the House. It must now be considered in committee in the Senate, passed by the Senate, and differences between the two reconciled and probably passed again before it even reaches the Presidents desk. Rest assured however, while this bill may have its downsides such as unspecified funding for port cargo testing, this is all good news.

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The text of this article is Copyright © 2006,2007 Paul William Tenny. All rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Attribution by: full name and original URL. Comments are copyrighted by their authors and are not subject to the Creative Commons license of the article itself.