Six years after 9/11, Congress still has no emergency plan
Six years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, lawmakers still don't have a plan to keep the legislative branch running in the event of a devastating attack on Congress.
"In the time since terrorists brought down the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon," writes Emily Yehle in Roll Call, "the only plans Congress has put in place to ensure its survival call for speedy special elections, a modified quorum and permission to relocate floor proceedings."
But other specifics of a post attack plan--macabre details like how to potentially provide rapid replacements for hundreds of dead and injured legislators--are still unclear.
"I am just as concerned as ever that we're now six years post Sept. 11 and we still do not have a constitutionally valid plan," Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), told Roll Call. "I still believe the potential for an attack is significant, and the potential for constitutional confusion, even a constitutional crisis, is very real."
A number of continuity bills were floated by the Republican-led Congress prior to 2005, but activity slowed after a bill was passed by the House requiring special elections 49 days after more than 100 lawmakers were killed. The bill still hasn't reached the Senate.
"The House also added a rule that gave the Speaker the power to unilaterally reduce the quorum requirement during an emergency, theoretically allowing the quorum to be as few as one Member," Roll Call reported, adding that"[s]everal scholars argued that such a rule was unconstitutional."
Rising in opposition to the bill during a debate in the House, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) said in 2005 that the legislation "focuses on the continuity of the election process rather than the continuity of Congress. The people who wrote this bill got their priorities all mixed up as to what the purpose of this was supposed to be."
Rep. Baird hopes Democrats will be more attentive to the issue than the previous Republican majority, and will introduce a bill in early October which would call for a list of alternate candidates for every member of Congress; Rep. Rohrabacher has plans for a separate bill.
Thomas Mann, a Congressional scholar at the Brookings Institution, told Roll Call that one reason legislators are reluctant to act is that it's unpleasant to plan for their own deaths.
"Beyond just a joke, they've gotten the heebie-jeebies about this thing,"he said, "but we have a responsibility to get over that."
Read the full article in Roll Call (subscription required)