House approves 2011 intel bill

The House on Friday easily approved a 2011 intelligence authorization bill that cuts spending from what was proposed by the White House.

Republicans said the bill, which sets specific intelligence-agency spending priorities for the rest of the current fiscal year, is needed after six years without this level of detailed guidance.

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The bill, H.R. 754, was approved on a 392-15 vote; only three Republicans and 12 Democrats voted against it. That level of support was not surprising in light of Thursday's favorable Democratic comments on the bipartisan bill.

The bill provides for an increase in spending compared to fiscal 2010 levels, but not as much as the Obama administration proposed. Report language accompanying the bill notes that unclassified programs covered by the bill would be cut by $47 million.

The reduced funding prompted complaints from the administration, but not a veto threat. It is unclear whether the Senate will take up the legislation.

The House approved a handful of substantive amendments to the bill, most notably one from New York Republican Reps. Michael Grimm and Tom Reed that congratulates the intelligence community for its contributions to the finding and killing of Osama bin Laden. Members approved that amendment in a 406-0 vote, after a brief debate in which one Democrat questioned why the House won't consider a broader amendment congratulating the military and President Obama for the bin Laden operation.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said bin Laden's death deserves more recognition, "and that is why I was disappointed that the House Republican leadership chose not to bring up something similar to Senate Resolution 159. That resolution recognizes the hard work by all facets of our government, from the president to the military to the intelligence community. It honors the victims of 9/11 and their families, and it is bipartisan, having passed the Senate 97-0."

Nadler was referring to a resolution approved by the Senate within days of bin Laden's killing. Near the end of the debate, Democrats tried unsuccessfully to recommit the bill to include a more broad congratulations to all officials involved in bin Laden's death, but this failed in a 182-228 vote.

Republicans did not say whether a broader resolution might be passed to congratulate the government on bin Laden's death, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has indicated in recent weeks that this question has not been settled.

In Thursday's debate, House Intelligence Committee member Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) praised House Democrats for working in a bipartisan fashion on the bill. "I have never served on a committee where I have seen greater bipartisanship, because we've put down our partisan swords when it comes to the safety and security of our nation," she said.

Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member on the committee, returned the compliment and agreed that both parties worked together to set intelligence-spending priorities.

"The Intelligence Committee is a bipartisan committee that works together," he said. "The stakes are too high for us not to work together, and that's what we're trying to do."

While most of the details of the bill are spelled out in a classified annex, Democrats agreed during the week that the bill gives various intelligence agencies the personnel they need to continue their work. Republicans stressed that the bill allows for more congressional oversight of how intelligence money is spent.

In Thursday and Friday votes, members approved amendments that require a study on how intelligence agencies might be consolidated, ask agencies to work with black colleges to develop curricula preparing students for intelligence careers, and require a report on the diversity of intelligence officers.

The House approved a technical corrections amendment from Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) that eliminated language Democrats say would have made it easier to audit intelligence agency spending. That amendment passed on a 224-174 vote.

Members also approved an amendment from Rep. John Carney (D-Del.) that would make rail security a priority for intelligence agencies. While Republicans called on members to oppose this because it is better suited as a Transportation Security Administration priority, 40 Republicans supported it, and the amendment was approved in a 221-189 vote.