Lawmakers Press for Passage of Intelligence Bill
Congress should remain in session until it approves legislation to overhaul the intelligence community, the incoming leader of the Senate Democrats said Sunday.
The House is returning today to continue its lame-duck session, and the Senate is scheduled to come back Tuesday. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that legislators “should not leave this town” until they pass the overhaul.
Referring to President’s Bush’s postelection comment that the results gave him “political capital” to use as needed, Reid said: “Let him pull a few bucks out of that pocket of mandate and give it to the House and Senate and say, ‘Here’s part of my mandate. I want this legislation to pass.’ ”
The bill, supported by Bush, the Republican congressional leadership and the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, would put control of the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies in the hands of a U.S. intelligence director and enact other anti-terrorism measures. It is a compromise between two versions passed this year in the House and the Senate.
But out of deference to the objections of two powerful committee chairmen, Reps. Duncan Hunter of El Cajon and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, the House Republican leadership has refused to bring the bill up for a vote.
Hunter, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, wants to ensure that the Pentagon remains in control of combat-support intelligence agencies, which he says are critical to troops in the field needing real-time intelligence data.
Sensenbrenner, head of the Judiciary Committee, wants the bill to address illegal immigration issues included in the original House bill but dropped in the compromise.
The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence warned Sunday that overall national security was far more critical than battles over specific issues.
“There was a global intelligence failure. We can’t have a status quo. We’ve got to change that,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Roberts said he was “very hopeful” that a vote would come this week, but Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) seemed less certain.
“We’ve been working nonstop through the weekend, yesterday, last night,” he told ABC’s “This Week.” “It’s just always so dangerous to predict that by the end of Tuesday or Wednesday, we will have a bill.”
Bush used his weekly radio address Saturday to lobby for the bill. The White House has said he also planned to write to congressional leaders, urging them to support the legislation.
Several members of Congress noted that there were enough votes in the House to pass the bill, even over the two chairmen’s objections.
“If it’s put up for a vote in both houses, it will pass with [a] bipartisan majority,” Rep. Jane Harman of Venice, the top Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and a member of the committee that prepared the compromise legislation, said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Roberts agreed, saying that “if it came to a vote, it would pass the House.”
The House is returning primarily to excise a section of a $388-billion spending bill, passed last month, that allows Appropriations Committee staff members to look at individual tax returns.
The Senate has already deleted the provision from the spending bill, and has no pending matters other than the intelligence legislation.