Senators Ignore 9/11 Panel on Overseeing Intel Agencies

WASHINGTON -- While senators agreed with the Sept. 11 commission's ideas for overhauling intelligence agencies, they rejected on Thursday advice about how to better oversee them. In the House, Republican leaders pushed ahead with their response to commission recommendations on fighting terrorism as lawmakers prepared to adjourn this weekend before the Nov. 2 elections.

Senators who passed a reorganization plan for intelligence agencies by a 96-2 vote Wednesday began working on changes to a congressional oversight system that the commission said was "dysfunctional."

The commission urged lawmakers to combine policy and spending powers inside the Intelligence Committee. But the Senate want to eliminate term limits for committee members, create a new Appropriations subcommittee for intelligence and turn the Governmental Affairs Committee into a Homeland Security Committee and give it additional powers.

"The solution we have come up with is a better solution," said Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Added Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.): "A long-standing lesson in the U.S. Congress that we have observed, I think wisely, is that it is inefficient and undesirable to mix policy legislation with appropriation legislation."

The commission is calling the Senate plan "useful and modest" but "not as far-reaching" as its recommendations.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tried to win approval of the plan to consolidate intelligence appropriations and authorization in the Intelligence Committee. He was on the losing end of a 74-23 vote.

"We're not talking about a turf battle," McCain said. "We're not talking about who's going to do what or who's going to have the power of the purse. We're talking about the security that the American people want and need according to the 9/11 commission."

Other recommendations include a new national intelligence director; expanded powers to fight terrorism, illegal immigration and identity theft, and tightening border security.

House Republicans said their bill is the one that better addresses the commission's concerns.

"It is far better and more well thought out than any other legislation we will consider today," said GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The White House on Thursday endorsed parts of the House bill, but also had reservations.