Key lawmakers and the White House are divided over the necessity and ramifications of a little- noticed amendment that would prohibit National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from having control over any money to reconstruct Iraq.
The language was added to the $87 billion supplemental spending bill for Iraq by House Appropriations Chairman Bill Young (R-Fla.) during his panel’s markup of the bill last Thursday. The provision is intended to signal some GOP Members’ displeasure with last week’s surprise White House announcement that Rice — instead of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld — will take charge of coordinating reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But it’s still unclear whether the amendment will have any impact on Rice’s new role as a coordinator and likely buffer between the feuding Defense and State departments.
The amendment, which was treated as a footnote in most news articles of the markup, specifies that only an administration official confirmed by the Senate — such as Rumsfeld or Secretary of State Colin Powell — may coordinate the spending of U.S. tax dollars in Iraq. But Young was explicit that he was targeting Rice.
“We need to make sure these monies will only be handled by those people we have direct access to,” said Young, who noted Rice, as a presidential adviser, is not required to come before Congress and testify as Rumsfeld and Powell are.
Young also indicated his ire that the Bush administration had not discussed the change in Rice’s role with Congressional leaders before announcing it to the media.
“The only thing we know about this new organizational structure is what we’ve read from what you’ve wrote,” he told reporters after the Thursday markup.
Indeed, GOP aides said the amendment is definitely intended to send the White House a message about GOP leaders’ continuing irritation with what some of them see as the lack of dialogue with Congress on its Iraq policy.
“It’s a signal that Congress has not been consulted and would appreciate a little more consultation,” noted one senior Senate GOP leadership aide. “We’ll see how it all comes together in the final conference.”
Though Senate Republican leaders do not plan to add a similar amendment to their bill during this week’s floor debate, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced a similar amendment on the Senate floor. It was not clear at press time last night whether Leahy planned to push for a vote on his proposal or if he would abandon the issue.
Either way, Senate GOP leaders are likely to join the House in using the provision as leverage to gain concessions from the administration during conference negotiations between the House and Senate on their differing versions of the bill. The Senate GOP aide noted that a fight with the White House over the Rice provision may help Congressional leaders retain other stringent reporting requirements that are included in both House and Senate versions of the bill. Those provisions, intended to help Congress keep track of how the money is spent, have not exactly been embraced by the administration.
White House officials could not say how Young’s provision might affect Rice’s new role.
“It’s under review,” said White House spokesman Trent Duffy.
Another senior Bush administration official acknowledged that the White House is not sure what the ramifications of the amendment could be, but that they will work to eliminate it during conference negotiations between the House and Senate to avoid any complications.
But Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Joseph Biden (D-Del.) flatly stated that the amendment is probably meaningless because Rice isn’t being asked to do anything outside of her normal job.
“The original function of the national security adviser is to synthesize and make sense of the foreign policy recommendations to the president of the United States,” said Biden. “[The supplemental] doesn’t give any money to Condi Rice. We’re giving money to the Defense Department, the State Department and the CIA.”
Republicans, on the other hand, asserted the president’s prerogatives in opposition to the provision.
“The president can ask [Rice] to do anything he wants her to do,” noted Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), a senior member of the Appropriations panel. “She does not administer programs, and the president does not intend for her to administer programs.”
Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) spoke out against any requirements in the bill that would hamstring the administration’s ability to use the funds.
“It’s a cynical attempt … at tying the president’s hands,” DeLay said.
But the notion that someone accountable to Congress needs to be firmly in control of the $87 billion appeals to many Members, such as Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner (R-Va.), Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.).
“I think it’s important that the precedents of the Congress be strictly maintained,” Warner said.
Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin indicated Byrd would support the language.
“Senator Byrd certainly agrees with the concept that the person in charge ought to be Senate confirmed,” Gavin said.
Gavin also noted that Byrd has already become exasperated with the reluctance of the Iraq reconstruction czar, Ambassador Paul Bremer, to frequently appear before Congressional committees on the spending of reconstruction funds. Bremer reports to Rumsfeld, but he is not directly accountable to Congress as a presidential appointee because his appointment did not require Senate confirmation.
Although Young specifically said he did not intend to target Bremer in his amendment, it is unclear whether the provision could inadvertently affect his ability to oversee the procurement and disbursement of funds.