House Republican leaders, unveiling their proposal to restructure the government's intelligence operations, yesterday placed much more emphasis on beefing up border control and law enforcement powers than has the Senate.
The House's 335-page bill would make it easier to deport immigrants who have run afoul of the law and to secretly monitor terrorist suspects who have no known affiliation with hostile groups or governments. It would increase penalties for making false statements in terrorist investigations and for failing to secure airplane cockpit doors, and it would make the FBI's mandatory retirement age 65 instead of 60.
The Senate proposal, scheduled for floor debate next week, makes little or no reference to these topics. Some lawmakers said yesterday that these and other differences will present major challenges for House-Senate negotiators trying to agree on a single bill later this year.
The two bills differ in dozens of areas, including the way the Pentagon and a proposed national intelligence director would divide power over budgets, planning and personnel. The Senate measure would create a comptroller for intelligence spending and declassify the total spent annually on intelligence. The House bill would keep that sum a secret and leave the Defense Department's comptroller in charge of spending oversight.
Both bills may be changed before they reach final floor votes, especially in the Senate, where amendment rules are less restrictive.
Leaders of both chambers said their respective bills reflect the findings and recommendations of the bipartisan commission that studied the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and issued a 567-page report in July. The commission's chairman and vice chairman have praised the Senate bill -- sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) -- but have withheld comment on House proposals until their details were known.
"Making America more secure has been our highest priority since the tragic attacks of September 11th," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) told reporters yesterday. "This legislation reflects the good work of the 9/11 commission, and it will make America safer."
But Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said the measure was loaded with controversial items likely to sink it unless they are removed during committee meetings next week or on the House floor. "There are some folks out to kill the whole thing," she said.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the bill was "written behind closed doors" and "goes far outside the recommendations of the 9/11 commission."
Neither bill recommends retooling congressional oversight of intelligence matters, which the commission said is vital.
Both bills would create a national intelligence director (NID) and national counterterrorism center. They differ on how much clout to give the NID, however. The House bill generally puts more authority in the hands of the defense secretary, who oversees about 80 percent of intelligence spending.
The Collins-Lieberman bill would allow the NID to nominate people to head agencies such as the National Security Agency and National Reconnaissance Office, which are housed in the Defense Department. If the defense secretary objected, the NID could still forward the recommendation to the president, noting the objection. The House bill would let the defense secretary nominate the agency chiefs, but the NID could veto the choices.
The Senate bill, unlike the House bill, calls for an inspector general of national intelligence operations.
Hastert and his staff crafted the House bill by considering hundreds of proposals from the heads of half a dozen committees. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), the chairman of the Government Reform Committee, issued a statement taking credit for several provisions. They include "an improved security clearance process that guarantees reciprocity among [federal] agencies" and limits on civil lawsuits in order to allow "first responders from Arlington County, for example, to come to the aid of those in need in D.C. or Maryland without having to worry about liability issues."
House Republicans, noting that the presidential and congressional elections are a few weeks away, predicted that Democrats in both chambers will find it difficult to vote against proposals seen as giving law enforcement agents greater tools to pursue terrorism suspects. Hastert spokesman John Feehery noted that some Democrats suffered in the 2002 elections after opposing, because of labor union reasons, a bill to create the Department of Homeland Security.
"The Democrats got spanked hard on homeland security," Feehery told reporters. "I don't think they want to get spanked again."