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July 17, 2008

President Threatens Veto of Next Year's Intelligence Budget

It looks like we're beginning veto season early this year. House Democrats passed their version of the 2009 intelligence budget today. The exact amount is classified, but the public version contains provisions limiting how the money can be spent. President Bush pointed out some dealbreakers:

The bill, which passed on a voice vote, would block two-thirds of the federal covert operations budget until each member of the congressional intelligence committees is briefed on all secret operations under way. Panel members also would be granted access to any other details necessary to assess the value of intelligence operations.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill because it says it would go too far and infringe upon the president's right to protect intelligence. In a statement Wednesday, the administration said the bill could expose information previously protected under executive privilege, including pre-decision legal opinions, risk assessments and cost estimates.

The legislation "would undermine long-standing arrangements between Congress and the president regarding reporting of sensitive intelligence matters," the statement said. [...]

Other provisions in the House bill that provoked a veto threat include a prohibition on the use of contractors to interrogate detainees and a demand that the CIA inspector general audit all covert operations every three years. The administration contends that the required audits would "interfere with the independent judgment" of the agency.

The president also objects to the Senate version, which has yet to pass, because the proposed text prohibits the intelligence services from using any interrogation tactic not listed in the Army Field Manual. At present, the CIA has broader discretion to use other tactics so long as they do not constitute "cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment." In March, the 2008 intelligence authorization was vetoed because it contained the same provision. Congress failed to override.

Certainly these are just the first steps in a lengthy back-and-forth about next year's budget. Still, I wonder if Democrats are trying to keep national security arguments away from the general election. Last year, they were handily and repeatedly embarrassed by the President and congressional Republicans on things like war funding, timelines for withdrawal, and defense appropriations. They also bowed to Republicans on domestic issues like SCHIP and stem cell research. For a lame duck president and a failing party, we sure are giving congressional Democrats a hard time.


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posted by Gabriel Malor at 01:43 AM

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