House and Senate leaders yesterday blamed the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld for the demise of the intelligence-reform bill and called on the White House to lobby harder for passage of the legislation during a final lame-duck session, set for December.
Republicans and Democrats said a turf war by the Pentagon to maintain budget control separate from the proposed director of national intelligence is the primary offender. Immigration issues, which leaders say should be addressed in separate legislation, also migrated into the bill.
The intelligence measure was blocked by Republican House leaders, but Sen. Pat Roberts, Kansas Republican and chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, said others, including the White House, are to blame.
“There’s been a lot of opposition to this from the first. Some of it is turf. Some of it is from the Pentagon. Some of it, quite frankly, is from the White House, despite what the president has said,” Mr. Roberts said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“I know that some people care about turf. I know some people obviously care about immigration. I do, too. We can do that at some later point. But this idea that somehow the Pentagon would be hurt by this, that is a canard,” Mr. Roberts said.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was more specific.
“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,” Mr. McCain said.
President Bush said yesterday evening after an economic summit in Chile that he was “disappointed the bill didn’t pass.”
“I thought it was going to pass up to the last minute,” he said.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a bill done” when Congress returns in December, Mr. Bush said, promising to work with interested parties. “When I get home, I look forward to getting it done.”
Mr. Bush did not respond directly to a question about whether Mr. Rumsfeld’s opposition contributed to the deadlock, saying, “It was clear I wanted the bill passed.”
In a chaotic day that the 108th Congress had hoped would be its last, negotiators announced a compromise on Saturday on the intelligence bill. But hours later, opposition from the Republican chairmen of two House committees stymied the bill, which would create a national intelligence director and establish a National Counterterrorism Center.
Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV blamed the bill’s defeat on Reps. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and Armed Services Committee chairman, and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman.
Mr. Hunter opposed the bill, echoing the Pentagon’s complaints about interfering with the military’s battlefield intelligence-gathering. Mr. Sensenbrenner said reforming U.S. intelligence would be pointless without making it harder for illegal aliens to get legal identification.
“I just think that 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,” Mr. Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, told ABC’s “This Week.”
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Congress will not rush the legislation, but negotiators will continue to work on a compromise during the next two weeks.
“We’re planning on coming back December 6th and 7th … because the bill was not ready,” Mr. Frist told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
However, Mr. Frist said he could not assure that a December vote will be taken “until we get it right.”
“It is clear that this bill gives a director of national intelligence new power. And that power is authority in budget. And that authority comes away from the Pentagon and the Department of Defense. And that, to many people, is threatening, and so there is a huge debate there,” Mr. Frist said.
“There is not general agreement between the Pentagon and members of the White House, and hopefully, that can be resolved over the next 10 days,” he said.
The new national intelligence director would oversee the budget and set priorities for 14 different intelligence agencies. The post was opposed by Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a letter to Congress.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Mr. Rumsfeld made it “absolutely clear” that he opposed the bill.
Mr. McCain was asked specifically by NBC host Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” whether the Pentagon is blocking the president’s reforms.
“This is one of the more byzantine kind of scenarios that I have observed in the years that I have been in Congress,” Mr. McCain responded.
“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,” Mr. McCain said.
“The president of the United States felt very strongly that we needed this reform. I believe that it’s a fairly good chance, since the majority of both houses of Congress and the president of the United States are in favor of this legislation, that it will probably succeed over time,” Mr. McCain said.
Asked whether Mr. Bush should call Mr. Rumsfeld to get on board, Mr. McCain laughed and said, “I would imagine he has done that already.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said he is optimistic that Congress will return next month and vote on the measure.
“The bill may be on life support, but I think it’s still breathing,” Mr. McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Although other Republicans expressed confidence that the disputes could be settled next month and a bill passed and signed by Mr. Bush, Mr. Roberts was more skeptical.
“Slim or none,” he said of the chances.
“And slim left town.”