9/11 commissioners at odds with former backers
Members of panel disagree with key senators on proposal to change formula for first-responder grants.
The former 9/11 Commission is lobbying Congress again to implement recommendations the panel made last year to prevent another terrorist attack, but this time some of its allies have become opponents.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., vice chairman of the commission, along with members of the New York delegation and other urban lawmakers, are pushing for Congress to revamp the funding formula for first responders when lawmakers take up the USA PATRIOT Act conference report this fall.
The coalition was scheduled to hold a news conference Tuesday to drum up support for a House proposal that would lower the minimum guarantee each state receives to prepare, prevent and respond to a terrorist attack. The House in July agreed to attach the proposal to their version of the PATRIOT Act reauthorization bill. The Senate's bill did not include a similar provision.
Their opponents in the fight include Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn. The two senators worked hand-in-hand with the 9/11 Commission and families last year to push through Congress a key recommendation of the commission: overhaul of the intelligence community. The "Voices of 9/11" families honored Collins and Lieberman this year for their efforts.
But now the commission, which formed a public policy advocacy group this year to continue pressing lawmakers to act on their recommendations, disagrees with Collins and Lieberman on their proposal to change the formula for first-responder grants.
The commission has recommended that Congress dole out every dollar of the billions in grants on the basis of risk and threat, "not according to pork-barrel politics as usual." The House proposal is closer to that recommendation than the Collins-Lieberman language. The senators want each state to receive at least 0.55 percent and up to 3 percent for larger states.
Collins and Lieberman recently asked colleagues negotiating the PATRIOT Act measure to drop the House proposal from that bill because it conflicts with the Senate's position on the issue. The chamber voted 71-26 in July to attach the Collins-Lieberman provision to the FY06 Homeland Security spending measure. The language was dropped from the bill during conference negotiations.
Collins and Lieberman are also playing the jurisdiction card, arguing their panel has been working on the issue for more than two years and they have the authority to navigate the legislation through regular order. "Alternatively, if the House insists on legislating in this area, we ask that you delegate responsibility for conferencing these provisions to us," they wrote in a letter to Senate conferees.
The former 9/11 Commission in September released a report card on progress made by the government to implement their recommendations over the last year, including changing the grant formula structure.
Hamilton, and former Commission Chairman Thomas Kean, wrote in a San Jose Mercury News op-ed that the House proposal was a "very good bipartisan bill that allocates all of these funds based on risk assessment."