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Senate bill would implement 9/11 panel proposals

McCain, Lieberman introduce the legislation

9/11 commission co-chairman Thomas Kean, left, Sen. Joe Lieberman and Sen. John McCain.
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Joe Lieberman
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, on Tuesday introduced an omnibus bill that would implement the major reforms recommended by the 9/11 commission, including creating the post of national intelligence director and strengthening border and transportation security.

"By introducing this legislation today, we ensure that the commendable and I might say remarkable work of the 9/11 commission has a real opportunity to be debated and enacted," said McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, in a news conference to announce the new legislation.

An omnibus bill packages several measures into one or combines diverse subjects into a single bill. Examples are reconciliation bills, combined appropriations bills and private relief and claims bills.

The senators -- who also drafted the bill that created the 9/11 commission -- said the legislation addresses the 41 recommendations of the 9/11 commission.

Lieberman, a ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said his committee hopes to mark up the bill the week of September 20 and have it ready for action before September 27.

He said he hopes the Senate will have a bill passed by the beginning of October -- even if it doesn't include all 41 proposals.

"I think we're going to get this done before anybody thinks about breaking for the campaign or the election," said Lieberman, who was a presidential hopeful earlier this year.

Among the major provisions of the legislation are the creation of a national intelligence authority -- which would operate independent of the White House and have budget authority, the creation of a national counterterrorism center to pool intelligence information from several agencies, and the strengthening of transportation security and screening.

It would also order the development of an extensive information-sharing network to distribute homeland security information among federal, state and local governments, and make it harder for terrorists to acquire fraudulent birth certificates and driver's licenses, Lieberman said.

"If we reorganize and reform the enormous human and technological intelligence assets America has, as the commission has recommended, we will be able to see, hear and stop the terrorist attacks against us before they occur," Lieberman said.

McCain said another important part of the bill is the call to overhaul Congress' oversight abilities and functions.

"And despite a short and crowded legislative calendar, and the fact that this is an election year, I believe we must take legislative action and action within the Congress to reorganize our oversight responsibilities," McCain said.

"I want to emphasis again, Governor (Thomas) Kean and Congressman (Lee) Hamilton pointed out that congressional oversight also was a major contributor to our failures prior to 9/11 and that has to be fixed as well," McCain added, referring to the 9/11 committee's chairman and vice chairman.

Lieberman acknowledged the legislative road ahead may not be smooth.

"There are going to be differences of opinion about these proposals, because the 9/11 commission has recommended and this bill would enact bold and comprehensive reform that changes the status quo, because the status quo in intelligence and diplomacy has failed us," he said.

McCain commended President Bush for the reforms the president has already enacted through executive order, but said Bush has gone as far as his authority will allow.

Wednesday, the president will meet with leaders, chairs and ranking members from several congressional committees to discuss intelligence reform issues and the 9/11 commission's recommendations, according to leadership aides for House Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Indiana, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the McCain-Lieberman legislation also provides another key factor in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

"This proposal emphasizes accountability. That is something that is long overdue. The fragmented structure that my colleagues have mentioned has prevented us from having accountability," Bayh said during the news conference.

"As far as I know, following the tragedies that led to 9/11, following the mistakes that were made on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no one has been fired, no one has been admonished, no one has been demoted. (Former CIA Director) George Tenet fell on his sword, but as far as I know that's about it," Bayh said.

-- CNN Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report

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