Earmarks are sticking point in intelligence bill

Funding for classified satellite programs also remains an issue for Republicans.

House and Senate lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to complete negotiations on a bill to authorize spending and programs for the nation's intelligence community during fiscal 2008. But Republicans already are planning to attack Democrats if they do not strike tens of millions of dollars in earmarks for specific projects from the bill.

Aides said they expect to reach a conference agreement on the measure. A Democratic source close to the negotiations said one of the last major sticking points involves funding for classified satellite programs. "That's the big unresolved issue," the aide said.

The aide added that Democrats have agreed to strike language that would require the intelligence community to analyze the impact of global climate change on U.S. national security interests. The aide said the intelligence community is already studying the issue, so requiring a formal national intelligence estimate on it is unnecessary. The requirement was a major difference between Democrats and Republicans when the House debated the bill in May.

Significantly, the bill also would reserve initial funding for a new, multibillion-dollar cyber-security program until the White House gives Congress more information on it, the aide added.

The earmarks controversy, though, could flare during conference proceedings. House Republicans succeeded late Tuesday in getting language approved to instruct conferees to work "to the maximum extent possible" to remove earmarks from the bill. The language said conferees instead should provide maximum funding for human intelligence-collection capabilities.

The House bill has about $100 million in earmarks, including some from Republicans. The vote to excise as many as possible was 249-160, with 62 Democrats voting for it.

House Republicans have been particularly incensed over a $23 million earmark from House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha, D-Pa., for the National Drug Intelligence Center, a Justice Department operation in Johnstown, Pa., which is in his district. Republicans tried unsuccessfully in May to strip the earmark.

Democratic aides said Wednesday that it is uncertain whether any earmarks will be removed. The other aide noted that the language instructing conferees is nonbinding and is viewed more as fodder for press releases.

The aide added that the bill "fully funds" human intelligence capabilities. "We think this is a very strong, bipartisan piece of legislation that gives the intelligence community strong tools to protect the country."

If Democrats do not strip earmarks, however, that could give the GOP new ammunition to attack them during the upcoming congressional recess. Indeed, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, issued a statement Wednesday calling on Democrats "to embrace the will of the House over the politics of pork."

Boehner added: "Should they opt to ignore the mandate given to them with this important vote yesterday, they will have once again broken their pledge on fiscal discipline and earmark reform and weakened our national security."