9/11 families lobby Congress to act quickly on intelligence overhaul

They fear momentum will be lost if the House and Senate fail to act before the elections.

Fearing Congress will fail to act on intelligence overhaul legislation before next month's election, family members of victims of the Sept, 11, 2001, terrorist attacks this week are knocking on lawmakers' doors on Capitol Hill and pressuring them to resolve differences in Senate and House versions of the bill.

Members of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee at a news conference Thursday said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., last week had promised controversial provisions in the House bill would not derail a House-Senate conference slated to meet formally early next week.

Family members reiterated their support for the Senate's bipartisan legislation, while many said they view House Republicans as a "stumbling block" to resolving differences.

"We appreciate the people that have stepped forward," said Mary Fetchet, who lost her son in the terrorist attacks in New York. "But we have other individuals that are trying to sidetrack this bill, and we can no longer allow them to do that."

Carol Ashley, who lost her daughter in the attacks, said Hastert assured two committee members the bill would be on President Bush's desk before Election Day. But a Hastert spokesman this afternoon said, "What [the speaker] said was, 'We're going to get a good bill to the president,' " adding that it is Hastert's goal to deliver a bill before the election.

The spokesman said the House and Senate have been working through procedural matters to convene a conference, and that the conference likely will be chaired by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. Conferees could meet early next week, the spokesman said.

Family Steering Committee member Beverly Eckert said she and others returned to Capitol Hill offices this week to keep tabs on Hastert's promise, but were disturbed to find many lawmakers had left to go home and campaign.

"We thought that when we got here we would see staff hard at work," Eckert said.

She also noted that congressional staff involved in the conference asked family members about the status of negotiations. "We're private citizens, yet the people responsible for running our government are asking us what we know," Eckert said. "Where are the members of Congress, what is the timetable, and why isn't the president, whose job it is to protect us, asking the same questions?"

Many family members warned that if the bill is not completed by Election Day, it would never get done. Although some felt there would still be an opportunity to enact the bill after the election, they worried it would be weakened as a result.

Family members were scheduled to meet Thursday with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and later with Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who drafted the Senate bill together.

Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and conservative former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., now the leader of the Gun Owners of America, are teaming up to oppose provisions in the intelligence bills. They are launching ads targeting immigration and law enforcement provisions in both bills, arguing in a statement that they "unnecessarily attack privacy and undermine civil liberties." The ads are running in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.