No compromise yet on intelligence bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An intelligence reorganization bill appeared no closer to passage Sunday than it did on November 20, when objections from Republican committee chairmen led to it being pulled from the floor.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, the House Judiciary chairman who wants the bill changed to stop states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Connecticut, sparred over the bill on ABC's "This Week" -- and part of their disagreement was about what President Bush wants.
"The president is pushing for this bill, but I think the president wants a bill that will do the job," Sensenbrenner said. "I'm in favor of waiting a little bit until we can get the important provisions of immigration and the driver's licenses passed."
Sensenbrenner said he and the president "agreed on that common-sense compromise" during a phone call, but Lieberman said "that wasn't how it came back to us" in the Senate.
"We ran aground on the question of Jim Sensenbrenner wanting to prevent states from issuing driver's licenses to illegal aliens," Lieberman said. "There was just about unanimous rejection of that. When the president called Jim Sensenbrenner, it was my impression that he was going to ask him to hold that until next year. But Jim Sensenbrenner came back with [more] proposals."
The bill includes many of the recommendations from the bipartisan commission that investigated the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including the creation of a national intelligence director.
After the Senate and House came up with different versions of the measure, a conference committee hammered out a compromise that sailed through the Senate with a 96-2 vote in October.
But on November 20, as Congress headed toward adjournment for the year, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, pulled the bill from the floor after receiving opposition within his own ranks.
Another chief sticking point to the bill is how much control the intelligence director would have -- particularly over the estimated $80 billion intelligence budget.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter objects to the bill on the grounds that it shifts too much control over intelligence operations and budgets from the military to a new national intelligence director.
On Sunday, former lawmakers Tom Kean, R-New Jersey, and Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, the chairman and vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, said the legislation needed to be passed now.
"We know there is another attack coming," Kean said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Unless we take these steps now, the new Congress is going to come in [and there will be] at least six months when none of these things will happen, not better security at borders, not more help for local people, nothing, and I don't think we can wait that long. It does risk lives."
Both men added that the bill can be improved in time, but that the key is immediate passage of the bill.
"If you reject his bill, then you back to the status quo, the structure of the intelligence community unchanged since before 9/11," Hamilton said. "Al Qaeda will not stop. They are going to continue to be active."
Opponents of the bill were bolstered by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, who sent a letter to lawmakers several weeks ago urging them to let the Pentagon keep much of its control over intelligence matters.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, however, has backed the president's position supporting the bill. (Full story)
While the bill might have still passed with Democratic votes, a Hastert spokesman said the speaker didn't want to split Republicans over the issue and wanted a "majority of the majority" to support it. And some Democrats charged that Hastert and other Republican leaders didn't want the minority party to get credit for passing the bill, which is supported by many families of 9/11 victims.
Congressional leaders have not adjourned Congress, which means lawmakers could return after the Thanksgiving break to pass the intelligence reform bill if the impasse in the House can be overcome. If not, the new Congress in January will have to start from scratch, wiping out months of discussions and compromises that crafted the measure.
Lieberman said Sunday that the conference committee "put a lot of [Sensenbrenner's] proposals in there" and that others are "unnecessary or irrelevant."
"I believe the president wants this bill, and I know he's taken some steps to bring it about," Lieberman said. "The reality is that with a majority of the members of the House ready to vote for this bill, the speaker refused to call a roll call."
"We've got a week to try to bring this bill to a vote, and I think the president clearly wants it," Lieberman added. "I can't believe the speaker, who also wants this bill, is not even going to call it. The speaker has inadvertently made a non-partisan matter into a partisan matter."
Sensenbrenner said he only wanted to "do it right and ... do it completely."
"Reorganization will not be helpful unless we improve our homeland security," Sensenbrenner said.