Congressional intelligence-committee members lost a fight with appropriators Monday over a provision of the budget bill they say gives President Trump too much power to reshuffle funds the government spends on intelligence programs without first notifying Congress.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Vice Chairman Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) attempted to make a last-minute change to a provision Monday that renders "notwithstanding" a long-standing law keeping the administration from spending money on intelligence activities Congress has not specifically authorized, or at least been notified of. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) blocked their effort.
"Effectively the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit without an authorization bill in place," Burr said on the floor.
Warner later added, "We want to make sure we don't give a blank check to anyone, particularly this administration."
The language appeared last week in the short-term budget extension drafted by House Republicans, and according to a person familiar with the drafting, it was originally proposed by the Trump administration. The provision applies for the duration of the short-term budget extension the House and Senate passed Monday.
Appropriators have pushed back on the Intelligence Committee lawmakers' complaints, arguing that they are misinterpreting the change and that it would have no effect on reporting policy. Others familiar with the bill's crafting argued that the "notwithstanding" language actually corrects a previous mistake in the budget bill.
Burr bristled Monday at the suggestion he was mistaken, saying "it really doesn't take a law degree to understand that there's a huge difference between ignoring Section 504, 'notwithstanding,' or applying Section 504," he said, referring to the provision of the 1947 National Security Act that guarantees Congress its role in budgeting how the intelligence community spends its funds.
"This isn't really a misinterpretation," he argued, promising to replace the language by the next budget bill.