Senators seek to replace Governmental Affairs with homeland panel
Proposal is part of bipartisan plan to overhaul homeland security oversight.
Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Bev., floated a major Senate reorganization plan Monday that would largely consolidate homeland security oversight and funding responsibilities in the Governmental Affairs and Appropriations committees and implement a significant change in the chamber's intelligence oversight duties.
Reid called the proposal the "largest single congressional reorganization in the history of the country," and said while some senators may be unhappy with some provisions, "we've moved the ball 90 yards down the field" toward addressing intelligence and security oversight problems.
Critics of the plan wasted little time expressing their unhappiness, with Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Commerce Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., both weighing in to pan the proposed changes.
Under the reorganization, the Governmental Affairs Committee would become a new Homeland Security Committee, and a new Intelligence Subcommittee would be added to the Appropriations Committee.
The Homeland Security Committee, while maintaining most of the Governmental Affairs panel's existing duties, would largely centralize Senate oversight of all homeland security activities of the federal government.
Supporters of the plan said such a consolidation is needed to reduce overlap, making it easier for homeland security managers and the Senate to communicate.
Additionally, the Select Committee on Intelligence would be made a permanent standing committee, and the term limits on members would be removed.
Other changes to the Intelligence Committee include ensuring no more than a one-vote majority for either party; providing each member of the committee with a designated staff aide while maintaining the non-partisan nature of the professional staff; creation of an Oversight Subcommittee, and reducing the number of members to 15.
McCain said that while he strongly supports consolidating oversight authority under the two committees, maintaining the split between authorization and appropriations is tantamount to not reforming the Senate's oversight system at all.
McCain said the resolution implementing the recommendations would result in "zero reform," and charged that "the appropriators ruled" the reform process. McCain also said the two whips reneged on a promise to allow for a vote on the recommendations by the full 22-member panel appointed by Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Reid and McConnell acknowledged that some members were unhappy with the recommendations and that they did not hold a committee vote, but nevertheless said the process was fair and included input from all of the panel members.
The Senate Rules Committee Tuesday is expected to pass a version of the resolution, and debate on the proposed reforms should begin Wednesday.
Although possible amendments to the resolution were unclear at presstime, McCain said Monday he would push to combine the appropriations and authorization functions into one committee.
But McCain acknowledged he could have difficulty in making that change, telling reporters that "the fix is in" on the bill.
Stevens, who will step down next year as Appropriations chairman but hold onto the chairmanship of the Defense subcommittee, expressed hesitation Monday about relinquishing the reins of the intelligence budget.
He said he was pressing Senate leaders to consider the proposal nothing more than a recommendation at this point.
"We don't reorganize the Appropriations Committee until we see what the House does," Stevens said.
A House Appropriations spokesman said there has been no similar movement to split intelligence funding away from the Defense subcommittee.
The Senate leadership plan would also merge the Defense and Military Construction subcommittees.
Stevens said it would make conference negotiations difficult if there are different subcommittee structures in each chamber.
Peter Cohn contributed to this report.
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