Delay in 9/11 intelligence overhaul criticized
Lawmakers blame money squabbles, holdouts in Congress
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Top Democrats and Republicans expressed anger and frustration Sunday over the failure of the House to pass a broad intelligence reorganization bill, pointing fingers at some conservative lawmakers and the Department of Defense.
Although a Senate version of the bill passed 96 to 2 in October, it was pulled in the House on Saturday, with Speaker Dennis Hastert saying attempting a vote would have been fruitless.
Congress left open the possibility of a vote in December.
"The president's going to have to stand up to both the Defense Department and to the hard right," Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer." "If we can't pass this bill, we are really letting the American people down."
The bill stems from recommendations of the bipartisan commission that investigated the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. (9/11 commission full report)
It calls for broad restructuring of the U.S. intelligence apparatus, including the creation of a national intelligence director post that would be a principal adviser to the president, separate from the CIA director. A chief sticking point is how much control the new director would have -- particularly over the intelligence budget.
Giving a national intelligence director budgetary control over the 15 intelligence agencies would mean forcing the Defense Department, which controls most of the nation's $40 billion intelligence budget, and its allies in Congress to relinquish power.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has cautioned that any changes in intelligence funding be made carefully, and said in August that any improvements a national intelligence director might bring would be "modest but indefinable."
Sen. John McCain called the impasse over the bill "one of the more Byzantine kind of scenarios that I have observed in the years that I have been in Congress."
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," the Arizona Republican referred to a letter the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, sent a few weeks ago urging that the Pentagon maintain much of its control over intelligence.
"It's hard for me to imagine the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sending that letter without at least consulting with the secretary of defense," McCain said, referring to Rumsfeld. "It's well known that the secretary of defense wasn't enthusiastic about this loss of budget authority. Remember, most of our fiercest debates in Washington come down to who controls the money."
Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the apparent stalemate in similar terms.
"Some of it is turf, you know, quite frankly," the Kansas Republican said on "Fox News Sunday." "Some of it is from the Pentagon. Some of it, quite frankly, is from the White House, despite what the president has said."
In pulling the bill Saturday, Hastert said some lawmakers were concerned the proposed overhaul could endanger U.S. troops in the field "who use real-time intelligence."
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist supported that decision Sunday.
"We can rush things. We can push them through. We can respond to public pressure, but we need to get it right," the Tennessee Republican said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Although we have got strong bipartisan support -- and I'm confident we can pass the bill as it is -- people said, 'Let's get it right.'"
But other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle rejected the idea that the changes proposed in the bill could have endangered troops in the field.
"I'm a former Marine," said Roberts, "I serve on the Armed Services Committee. No bill that I have seen, even the one that I introduced that went even farther than this, had anything to do with doing any harm to tactical intelligence in regards to that war fighter in the field."
Rep. Jane Harman from California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said on "Fox News Sunday" that it was "unfortunate" President Bush "couldn't get the secretary of defense to stop his opposition, which has been ongoing for months and which emboldened some of these House folks to dig in."
The bill could still pass before the end of the year. Rather than adjourning the lame-duck session, Congress left open the possibility of returning before January to pass the measure.
But lawmakers were split over whether the bill has a chance of passing in December, and all agreed intense involvement from the White House would be needed for that to happen.
Harman also said she was wary of further negotiations.
"If the thought is that we will change the bill further, and therefore it will be more palatable to these committee chairs who oppose it, that will unglue all the careful compromises" that went into it, she said.
"And I think you may satisfy them, but then you'll make this national director of intelligence an ineffective office. That isn't the point."
Sources told CNN that in order to help secure passage in the House, Bush called Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, a California Republican, who was siding with critics in the Pentagon on the issue of shifting budgetary control to a national intelligence director.
The president also called House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, urging him to "back off" from pushing contentious provisions involving immigration that threatened the bill's passage, sources said.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, took aim at Hunter and Sensenbrenner, saying they were responsible for the bill stalling in the House.
"Americans ought to remember the name Duncan Hunter and also Jim Sensenbrenner, because they brought the bill down, the most important national security bill in the last generation," the West Virginia Democrat said on ABC's "This Week."
The chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission said they still held out hope that the bill will win passage.
"The structure of the intelligence community has not changed since 9/11. The commission believes the status quo is unacceptable," Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton said in a statement. "This legislation is necessary to make the American people safer and more secure. We believe it must be enacted before the 108th Congress adjourns."