Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The White House yesterday gave its support to the Senate September 11 Reform bill, as lawmakers from both parties vowed to try to remove what they called “poison pill” provisions from the House’s much broader-ranging version.

“The administration supports … the establishment of a [national intelligence director] with full, effective, and meaningful budget authorities,” said officials from the Office of Management and Budget. They said the White House would fight any attempts to water down the powers of the new intelligence chief.

The support of the Bush administration is seen as a warning to senators who have pledged to introduce amendments to the bill, which creates the director position to oversee the nation’s intelligence to better prevent terrorist attacks.

Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are expected to offer amendments weakening the authority of the director to controlling the budget of intelligence agencies in the Department of Defense. The version proposed by Republican House leadership late last week already has weaker budget powers for the chief, congressional staff from both parties say.

However, Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said yesterday she intends to offer amendments at her committee’s markup sessions that would strengthen the budget authority of the new post, bringing it in line with the Senate bill that the president supports.

Earlier yesterday, before the White House statement was released, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, pledged to hold the line on that issue.

“That is something we have agreed to disagree on,” he said of the director’s budget powers.

But differences over the powers of the new post are not the only ones likely to mar the markups this week.

Supporters of reform on both sides of the aisle say several of the bill’s provisions in the House version risk complicating, or even derailing, the bill’s progress.

These include measures that make it easier to deport aliens without a court hearing and restrict their right of appeal; a provision that broadens the definition of both “material support” and the organizations to which it is a crime to provide it; and a clause legalizing the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition, when suspected terrorists are removed to countries that practice torture.

Reformers say there are no equivalent provisions to these measures in the Senate bill. These differences are expected to become a complication when legislators from both chambers meet to reconcile their respective versions and hammer out a single measure.

“The best chance to enact these reforms is to avoid a protracted conference,” said Betsy Wright Hawkins, chief of staff to Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican.

She said the best way to achieve that “is to have a clean bill which is as close to the Senate version as possible.”

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