December 06, 2004

Congresswoman Harman continues push for 9-11 package
The South Bay legislator is "optimistic, cautiously" that an intelligence overhaul bill can be passed.

Toby Eckert

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Friday that she is "optimistic, cautiously" that Congress will pass a major intelligence overhaul that has been stalled for weeks because of opposition from two powerful House Republicans.

Several developments this week seemed to breathe new life into the legislation, which Harman, D-El Segundo, helped negotiate with other House and Senate members, based on recommendations made by a national commission that studied intelligence shortcomings unmasked by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Bush stepped up his lobbying for the bill and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen. Richard B. Meyers, indicated his concerns had been addressed.

In blocking a final vote on the bill, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, had cited Meyers' misgivings about the authority a new national intelligence director would have over intelligence spending by the Pentagon.

"I think that the White House and certainly the uniformed side of the Pentagon seems to feel that issue has been dealt with," Harman said in an interview.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush would send a letter to congressional leaders addressing the issue. Bush will urge Congress to pass the bill when it reconvenes next week.

"I think he will talk about the importance of preserving the chain of command in departments and agencies. And that would include the Department of Defense," McClellan said.

The legislation would create a new intelligence director with budget authority over 15 agencies, including three in the Defense Department.

Opposition from another top lawmaker, House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., has also stood in the way of passage. Sensenbrenner has insisted that the bill include several immigration provisions, including special drivers' licenses for noncitizens, opposed by some Senate members.

Other opponents of the legislation made it clear they would continue their fight.

"Getting intelligence reform done right, not fast, should be the goal because lives are at stake. There was not enough time after the 9-11 (commission) report for any Congress to produce a good bill. That can be done and should be done by the (next) Congress," Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., said in a written statement.

Bartlett is chairman of the House Armed Services projection forces subcommittee.

But Harman said the legislation is "delicately balanced" and that it would be impossible to negotiate a new bill in the next Congress.

"It can't be reopened," she said. "If it is reopened, it will kill it."