As Congress continues to grapple with the 9/11 commission’s reform recommendations, both chambers are taking steps this week to examine whether they need to conduct oversight of the intelligence community differently.
While two House Members plan to introduce a proposal to change their chamber’s rules, the real movement on the intelligence reform front is expected to take place in the Senate.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) are slated to unveil a proposal for shifting Senate oversight of the intelligence community today to their 22-member working group.
One senior Senate aide said Members should expect to consider a proposal for Congressional oversight changes on the floor sometime this week, during the Senate’s consideration of a larger bill to implement other recommendations of the 9/11 commission, including the creation of a national intelligence director.
But the secrecy with which McConnell and Reid have been devising the plan caused many Members and aides last week to plead ignorance about exactly what they’ll be debating today.
Those who agreed to divulge information insisted upon anonymity. Even those sources could provide only sketchy details last week, with aides cautioning that the proposal was not yet finalized.
However, the plan appears likely to strengthen the Senate Intelligence Committee by making it a permanent committee, eliminating term limits for its members, and abolishing requirements that all of its legislation also be referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
But rather than placing appropriations authority within the Intelligence panel, as the 9/11 commission recommended, Reid and McConnell are expected to propose a new subcommittee for intelligence matters within the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Instead of creating a 14th subcommittee on Appropriations, however, sources indicated that the current military construction appropriations panel could be absorbed by the Defense Appropriations subcommittee — compensation, in effect, for the Defense panel losing its current jurisdiction over intelligence.
It also was possible, one source said, that the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations subcommittee could lose some jurisdiction over the FBI as a result of the jurisdictional switch.
What wasn’t clear Friday was whether any new intelligence Appropriations subcommittee would include the chairman and vice chairman of the Intelligence panel — an idea that current Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Vice Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have advocated.
It also was unclear how McConnell and Reid propose to structure oversight of the Homeland Security Department.
The 9/11 commission criticized Congress for not streamlining oversight of the newly created department. Options include giving the Governmental Affairs Committee full jurisdiction over Homeland Security; creating a new, separate panel to deal with those issues; or folding Homeland Security oversight into the current Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
While the Rules and Administration Committee has scheduled a meeting Tuesday morning — ostensibly for a markup of the proposal — the meeting is more likely to be held off the Senate floor during the chamber’s first vote that day. Rules Chairman Trent Lott (R-Miss.) noted such a likelihood in a notice he sent to Members last week.
Such notices generally suggest that amendments will not be entertained, and it is possible the Rules panel simply will pass out a resolution that will be used as a shell for the real proposal, which would be offered as a substitute on the floor, presumably by Reid or McConnell.
Amendments, on the floor or possibly in committee, are likely to range from giving the Intelligence panel dual authorizing and appropriations authority to ensuring that the Armed Services panel does not lose too much jurisdiction over intelligence matters.
Uncertainty also surrounds the question of whether the Senate will move to directly amend their standing rules or pass a standing order.
Beating back a filibuster for a rules change requires 67 votes, whereas a filibuster over a standing order could be overcome by just 60, according to Senate rules. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee and an expert on Senate rules and procedures, has advocated a direct rules change.
“It has everything to do with the Senate defending its own prerogatives,” said Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin. “He thinks the Senate is rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline.”
On the House side, the chamber is set this week to take up the GOP leadership-authored bill on intelligence reforms.
Against that backdrop, Reps. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) — the authors of a competing reform measure that mirrors the Senate 9/11 bill — are working to change the House’s committee structure.
This week, Shays and Maloney will introduce a proposed change to House rules that closely tracks the 9/11 commission’s oversight recommendations.
Their proposal calls for three key changes:
• Making the Homeland Security Committee a permanent panel that wields complete jurisdiction over homeland security issues;
• Making the Intelligence Committee a standing — rather than select — panel, with full jurisdiction over intelligence and counterterrorism issues; and
• Creating a 14th Appropriations subcommittee to deal with intelligence issues, with one-third of the Intelligence Committee roster filled by Appropriations members.
Given the movement on other 9/11-related bills and the shrinking number of days left in the session, it is unclear whether the Republican leadership will take the time to consider the Shays-Maloney blueprint. But the lawmakers believe their proposal is worth the effort.
“It is something we’re still working on,” said Maloney. “We should act on these recommendations.”
John Feehery, spokesman for Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), declined to address the specifics of the Shays-Maloney proposal, but he emphasized that the Speaker is clearly focused on the issue.
“We’re working hard on Congressional oversight,” said Feehery. “We were the first Congressional body to create a Homeland Security Committee. We’re going through a wholesale review right now of our oversight operations.”
Hastert already has one oversight proposal on his desk: The Homeland Security Committee’s recommendations on its own future.
Homeland Security Chairman Chris Cox (R-Calif.) and other senior panel members unveiled their proposal Thursday, the same day they submitted it to the Rules Committee.
Their plan calls for Homeland Security to become a permanent standing committee with vastly expanded turf. The proposal would require taking some jurisdiction away from seven panels: Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, International Relations, Judiciary, Transportation and Infrastructure, Ways and Means, and Intelligence.
Cox called the plan “the right thing, not the easy thing.”
“We recognize that some issues are cross-cutting,” he said. “I think you will find that there may be some ruffled feathers.”
Some chairmen of those panels that would lose jurisdiction have already made clear their opposition to Homeland Security’s proposal.
“I’m not supportive of what they’re doing,” said Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska).
Asked whether his fellow Transportation members would join him in resisting the change, he said, “I’m sure that’s already going to happen.”