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Senate Split On Bill Creating Post for Intelligence Director

By Philip Shenon and Carl Hulse

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Despite the enthusiastic support of leaders of the bipartisan Sept. 11 commission and unanimous passage by a Senate committee, a bill to enact many of the commission’s central recommendations faced an uncertain fate on Monday as the Senate opened a floor debate and moved toward a final vote, possibly this week.

The bill, which would establish the post of national intelligence director, has powerful critics in both parties. Among them are the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee, who would see their authority diluted if Congress followed through on the commission’s recommendations.

The critics are expected to offer a host of amendments during this week’s Senate debate that would water down many of the bill’s provisions, including the budget and personnel authority that it would grant to the national intelligence director.

The future of the bill, which was approved unanimously last week by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, was considered so uncertain that members of the Sept. 11 commission say they are weighing whether to begin lobbying vigorously this week to preserve the Senate bill in its current form and to urge House Republican leaders to rewrite a bill introduced last week.

“We wouldn’t rule anything out,” said the commission’s chairman, Thomas H. Kean, a Republican former governor of New Jersey. “My strong feeling is that we have a moment in time, and if we lose that moment, we may not be able to get the reform that we’re seeking.”

The commission’s vice chairman, Lee H. Hamilton, a Democratic former House member from Indiana, is scheduled to appear at a news conference on Tuesday in support of the Senate bill; the bill’s sponsors and families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks are to accompany him.

The House Republican bill, which was introduced last week, would grant fewer powers to a national intelligence director and would provide law enforcement agencies with powers that the Sept. 11 commission did not specifically recommend, including new authority to deport immigrants and to conduct electronic surveillance of terrorist suspects.

The House bill has been criticized by civil liberties groups, by members of the Sept. 11 commission and by Democrats. The Democrats say that by introducing a bill so different from the Senate version and including many contentious law enforcement provisions not sought by the commission, House Republican leaders may be trying to derail final agreement on any legislation to respond to the panel’s findings.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democratic member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced Monday that she had signed on as a co-sponsor of the Senate bill and said she feared that the House was trying to scuttle final legislation to enact the recommendations of the commission.

“I’m really concerned that this is a thinly veiled effort to introduce poison pills into desperately needed legislation,” Feinstein said. “I really think that if this were to happen, and I certainly hope it does not happen, that Americans are going to see right through it.”