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Intelligence Reform Bill Hits a Wall in Congress

House and Senate members say they can't reach a compromise by Nov. 2 on a spy director's authority and on immigration issues.

October 30, 2004|Mary Curtius | Times Staff Writers

Hastert's press secretary, John Feehery, said the House "could not vote for a bill that our members were not comfortable with and they were not going to vote for something that the Defense Department -- that is currently fighting a war -- was against."

Asked whether the Myers letter undercut the White House's stated support for a national intelligence director with strong budgetary authority, Feehery said that Hunter -- in soliciting the letter -- asked Myers "not to speak for the administration, but to give him his unvarnished opinion, to speak for the war fighters, which he is required by law to do."

Led by Hunter, House Republicans insisted in negotiations that giving a national intelligence director too much budget authority would endanger U.S. troops, who often depend on real-time access to strategic intelligence information.

Hunter's critics said he was fighting for turf -- that of the Pentagon and the congressional committees that oversee the Pentagon.

Hunter's position was bolstered by an e-mail sent Oct. 23 to the staffs of Sens. Collins and Lieberman by Philip D. Zelikow, who served as executive director of the Sept. 11 commission.

In an apparent miscalculation, Zelikow praised the House for being willing to compromise with the Senate on the question of budget authority for the national intelligence director and urged the Senate to close a deal. He said afterward he was trying to break the impasse. But Senate negotiators said it served to harden the House's position.

"The Zelikow e-mail hurt a lot," said a congressional staff negotiator. "It was widely perceived by the supporters of intelligence reform on the Hill as the single thing that really killed us."

The Senate was convinced that it had the upper hand going into this month's negotiations with the House. It had moved quickly, enacting a bill in early October by a 96-2 vote. Hailed as an example of bipartisan cooperation, it won support from the Sept. 11 commission, the families who had lobbied for creation of the panel, House Democrats and, with some caveats, the White House.

But the House took a different course when the Republican leadership crafted a bill that Democrats said gave too little power to a national intelligence director and included anti-immigrant provisions.

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