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House GOP Saves Contested Intel Fix

House Republicans on Wednesday beat back an attempt by Democrats to remove a provision in the GOP’s intelligence-reform bill that critics said would weaken Congress’ institutional clout on such issues.

Several committees spent the day marking up their portions of the bill, which was written by the Republican leadership to implement some of the recommendations by the 9/11 commission.

One provision tucked away in the bill would give the president the right to submit any future plans for reorganization of the intelligence community for a simple up-or-down vote by Congress — a power similar to “fast track” trade authority.

Proponents of the idea, which made it into the portion of the bill marked up by the Government Reform Committee on Wednesday, argue that granting the president such power would ensure that crucial intelligence measures can move quickly through the legislative process.

“Doing so means reorganizations can come before Congress without getting buried in jurisdictional fights,” said Drew Crockett, a spokesman for Government Reform Republicans.

But Democrats contended that such a move would drastically weaken Congress’ input in future debates. During Wednesday’s markup, Rep. John Tierney (D-Mass.) introduced an amendment to strike the language, but it was defeated on a mostly party-line vote.

“That’s an abdication of our responsibility as the legislative branch,” said Tierney. “As Members of Congress, this isn’t a partisan matter. It’s about standing up for the institution.”

Some Democrats view the provision as another example of the Bush administration’s allegedly frequent efforts to expand the power of the executive branch at the expense of Congress.

“I think it’s part of a trend that we’ve seen in other areas,” said Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Even though the fast-track provision made it out of committee, its final fate remains unclear. The 9/11 bill currently moving in the Senate contains no such language, and even some House Republicans involved in the issue aren’t completely on board.

“I would believe that that authority might be a little broader than what I would support,” said Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.). “Congress has a role to play.”

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