Senate conferees offer compromise on intelligence overhaul
Senate conferees Monday gave ground on the key sticking point -- the Defense Department's oversight of funding -- in House-Senate negotiations over intelligence overhaul legislation.In the latest Senate counterproposal, sent to the House Monday, Senate conferees agreed to continue the current practice of "channeling the [National Intelligence] Program's appropriation through cover accounts in the Defense Department and other entities," with a new national intelligence director gaining "exclusive control over disbursing the funds."While the original Senate bill gave the intelligence director unlimited authority to transfer funds and military and civilian personnel, the new offer limits such transfers to 10 percent of an individual agency's total of funds or personnel in any single fiscal year.
The new Senate proposal also bows to a House desire to keep the overall appropriation figure for intelligence efforts classified.
Talks among House-Senate conferrees have been stalled for weeks over the 9/11 Commission's recommendation for a more centralized budget authority, which the Senate largely had endorsed.
House Republicans argued they had already conceded by agreeing to give the director the authority to "determine" the national intelligence budget for the Pentagon's intelligence agencies, but believe the Pentagon should still sign off on funding levels to protect intelligence assets for the military.
Senate conferees had argued until now that the NID should directly fund the defense agencies to prevent the Defense secretary from redirecting money to other areas.
A Senate aide involved in the negotiations said the Senate proposal proves that Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who are leading negotiations for their chamber, are "serious" about finishing a bill next week during the lame duck session. Collins has said if the two sides are unable to pass a bill next week it would be difficult to be successful next year.
Aides speculated last week that election gains by House Republicans removed political pressure on them to agree with the Senate's bipartisan measure. And House leadership aides said a final vote on the measure could be postponed until next year if an agreement is not reached quickly.
The latest Senate offer is in response to a second offer made Oct. 29 by the House before the two sides suspended negotiations for the election. In that House proposal, Republicans agreed to drop several provisions that critics had called "extraneous," such as language expanding law enforcement's ability to expeditiously deport illegal immigrants. They also reduced jail time for obstructing justice, providing false statements and committing terrorist hoaxes, as well as removing the death penalty for those found guilty of providing material support to terrorists, according to a copy obtained by CongressDaily.
The new House proposal also deals with caps on immigrants claiming asylum, strengthens language calling for a civil liberties board and moves closer to the Senate's version on a national counterterrorism center. The House did not back down from a provision to establish national standards for drivers' licenses and birth certificates. Civil liberty groups have argued against the idea, saying it would create a de facto national identification system.