House and Senate Republican leaders did little last month to head off the potential turf battles that could crop up this week as Congress tackles legislation to implement the 9/11 commission’s recommendations on intelligence reform.
And now — unfortunately for all involved — signs point to continued intraparty division and partisan mistrust, rather than an orderly rush to pass a bill and get home in time to campaign for the November elections.
[IMGCAP(1)] House and Senate leaders have had what sources characterize as only a “few, brief conversations” about coordinating their efforts to smooth the route to the president’s desk. And illustrating the 9/11 commission’s criticism that too many Congressional committees are involved in oversight of intelligence and homeland security, more than a half-dozen committees scheduled hearings on the commission’s findings in August, with more hearings in September expected.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) has sought to head off some of the committee-jurisdiction skirmishes by designating the Governmental Affairs panel as the lead committee for producing legislation. Meanwhile, John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would only say the “leadership is going to have an active role” in crafting the House legislation. He predicted that the House and Senate will “most likely have those discussions” about coordinating their efforts some time in the next week or so.
While the Senate appears more focused on the issue than the House is, that hasn’t stopped a spate of Senators from trying to one-up Governmental Affairs — including the panel’s own ranking member, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).
Lieberman has teamed up with Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on a comprehensive bill that would implement all 41 of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations, including overhauling intelligence agencies and beefing up transportation and border security. Tom Kean, the 9/11 commission chairman, and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton support the bill, which is to be unveiled today. Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) are sponsoring the bill on the House side.
Then there’s Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who unveiled a bold proposal to dismantle the CIA last month and announced that seven of the eight Intelligence Committee Republicans were on board.
But Senate Republican leaders appear skeptical of the merits of Roberts’ far-reaching bill.
“It takes more than committee members to pass a bill,” noted National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (R-Va.).
Plus, the Senate may move to confirm the nomination of Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) to head the CIA in the next two weeks — a move that would send Roberts a message that the Senate isn’t interested in breaking the agency apart.
Roberts “may have stretched it somewhat in terms of having [Republican] support” for the bill, one Senate GOP aide said. But Roberts is thought likely to stick to his guns for a while and withhold his support from other measures he believes don’t go far enough.
Despite the growing list of proposals, Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she’s confident that her more limited bill to implement the commission’s suggestion to create a national intelligence director with authority over all 15 intelligence agencies will prevail over all the others.
“As far as the responsibility for producing a bill that will go to the floor, the leaders have made clear that the Governmental Affairs bill is the bill that will go to the floor,” she said.
But she also acknowledged that a lot of Members are vying for influence and credit for creating legislation that ultimately could end up helping the president’s re-election bid.
“Obviously, it would be easier to do this if we were not in the midst of a heated presidential campaign,” said Collins. “I’m sure there are some Democrats who don’t want the president to have a signing ceremony on intelligence reform.”
While that may be true, there are also some Republicans who don’t want their committee to lose its current cachet under Collins’ bill. Still other Republicans feel the 9/11 commission got it wrong in proposing such radical restructuring of the nation’s intelligence-gathering efforts.
More than a few Members, including Allen and Senate Armed Services member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), have noted that many of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations on information sharing and interagency cooperation have already been implemented in some fashion by the CIA, FBI and defense intelligence agencies — thus making a rush to reform unnecessary, they say.
“Much has already been done,” said Allen. He added that the creation of the Homeland Security Department in 2002 “was the biggest reorganization of government in 40 years, and that’s still having to get digested.”
Meanwhile, both Frist and Hastert continue to vow that they will not have “a knee-jerk reaction,” as Frist put it, to the 9/11 commission’s recommendations for overhauling the way the government gathers and processes intelligence on terrorists. However, at the same time, both Frist and Hastert are promising passage of an intelligence overhaul by the end of this month, in which there will be roughly 15 working days.
True, 15 days of deliberation is hardly a “knee-jerk” approach, but it also isn’t a lot of time for the “thoughtful and meticulous” consideration one House GOP leadership aide predicted. Of course, that timeline is likely why Hastert was reluctant in July to promise action on the 9/11 commission’s recommendations in the first place, but political pressure, specifically Frist’s decision to move quickly, forced his hand.
And both sides are predicting everything will be coming up roses by the end of the month.
“Legislation will pass this year,” said a confident Frist at the Republican National Convention in New York last week.
Similarly, a House Republican leadership staffer boasted that the dozen or so hearings in August have given House leaders “a head of steam, which is significant because we’ve only got a month left.”