US lawmakers urge House vote on intelligence reform
If House GOP leaders would allow a vote on post-Sept. 11 legislation overhauling the intelligence community of the United States, it would easily pass, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle predicted Sunday.
A top Republican scolded opponents who worry the Pentagon would lose some of its authority, saying national security is far more important than turf battles. "There was a global intelligence failure. We can't have a status quo. We've got to change that," said Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The Republican-controlled House will return Monday to decide whether lawmakers should vote on a House-Senate compromise to create a national intelligence director position to coordinate the nation's spy agencies and enact other anti-terror measures. If the House passes the bill, the Senate will return to do the same.
At the center of the dispute is how much authority the Pentagon will retain over intelligence agencies that it now controls. The bill attempts to give a central authority more control, but some Republicans are pressing to preserve more of the Pentagon's power.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert decided not to allow a vote on the legislation last month after two powerful committee chairmen, GOP Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, objected.
And on Friday, a powerful Republican senator, Virginia's John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, expressed concerns about the bill. His office said Warner was "concerned about those issues that may impact the time-tested chain-of-command" at the Pentagon.
Still, with the help of Democrats, there are enough Republican votes to push the measure through the House, several lawmakers said. Some argue that President Bush needs to be working harder to push the legislation through.
"Every day we delay our country is less safe," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said on "Fox New Sunday." "Speaker Hastert knows that. The president knows that. They just haven't convinced all of the Republicans."
Even Republicans said the bill could pass despite opposition from GOP holdouts. "I hope we can change their minds," said Roberts, R-Kan. "If it came to a vote, it would pass the House."
Roberts supports the bill and said opponents allied with the Pentagon should put national security first.
"They have to understand something, the primary user of intelligence is not the military. ... It is the president of the United States and the National Security Council and it is the Congress of the United States," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
Hunter, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, has expressed concerns the intelligence realignment could interfere with the military's chain of command. He wants the bill to ensure that the Defense Department retains direct control over the agencies that operate the nation's spy satellites and analyze that information for troops on the battlefield. The bill's supporters say it would not interfere with those operations.
Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wants the bill to address illegal immigration and what he sees as loopholes in the system.
Bush, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and the members of the Sept. 11 commission have all endorsed the intelligence bill. Bush telephoned House and Senate lawmakers and used his radio address over the weekend to press Congress to pass the bill.
"The legislation I support preserves the existing chain of command and leaves America's 15 intelligence agencies, organizations and offices in their current departments," Bush said in his Saturday radio address.
Despite his efforts, some Democrats say the president has not lobbied members of his own party hard enough. The White House has said Bush plans to send a letter to Capitol Hill, though he hasn't done it yet.
"The president, who controls both houses of Congress, should use his power," incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada told NBC's "Meet the Press."
The president "said he has power, he has a mandate ¡ª let him pull a few bucks out of that pocket, that mandate, and give it to the House and Senate and say, `Here's part of my mandate. I want this legislation to pass,'" Reid said.
If lawmakers fail to pass an overhaul this year, they'll have to start from scratch next year. With the new Congress in January, bills that failed to pass in the current session expire and new lawmakers and committee leaders would have to consider any new legislation.