The budget extension lawmakers must vote on by Friday evening to avoid a government shutdown will, as written, give President Trump greater ability to reshuffle money the administration spends on intelligence priorities for the next month, according to congressional sources raising concerns about the text..
Lawmakers affiliated with the intelligence panels are scrambling to figure out why the short-term budget measure appears to sideline a long-standing law preventing the administration from spending money on intelligence activities Congress has not specifically authorized, or in exigent circumstances, Congress has not at least been notified of. The measure appears to render parts of that law — Section 504 of the 1947 National Security Act — "notwithstanding," or null and void, until the budget extension expires in a month. Normally, short-term budget extensions make specific reference to the applicability of the law for the duration of the measure.
According to a person familiar with the language, the Office of Management and Budget submitted the "notwithstanding" language to Congress, which appeared in the budget bill House Republican leaders presented to their rank-and-file members on Tuesday, and began to set off alarm bells across the intelligence committees in Congress late Wednesday. Congressional staffers with oversight of the intelligence community believe the "notwithstanding" mistake may have been inserted in error, but they are inquiring as to whether it was an intentional effort to give the president unprecedented power to work around Congress.
But appropriators pushed back on such concerns Thursday. A spokeswoman for the House Appropriations Committee argued that the bill made no changes to the status quo, stressing that the measure would still require the administration to spend the funds "exactly" as laid out by the Defense Department in its congressional budget justification documents. Others familiar with the bill's crafting argued that the "notwithstanding" language was actually correcting a mistake in the budget bill, and that it would bring about no change to the policy.
The House and Senate have yet to vote on the measure, but it is unclear how much the dispute will ultimately affect the budget measure in the end. While the House passed the budget extension Thursday night, its prospects in the Senate are bleak.
Correction: This article has been changed to reflect that the president would still have to notify Congress of any changes made to the budget, and could not operate fully in secret.
Ellen Nakashima contributed to this report.