Spy bill sails through House after Democrats get on board

Spy bill sails through House after Democrats get on board
© Getty Images

The House easily passed legislation outlining policy for the nation’s spy agencies in a voice vote on Tuesday after leaders of the chamber’s Intelligence Committee unveiled a compromise bill with support in both parties.

The support for the Intelligence Authorization Act stands in stark contrast to the reception for an earlier version of the bill, which many House Democrats opposed and the White House had threatened to veto this summer.

ADVERTISEMENT
But the new bill drops the use of a funding mechanism that Democrats described as a “gimmick” and pulls back the restrictions on President Obama’s ability to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

“As the recent terrorist attacks in Paris show, our enemies are rapidly improving their ability to launch deadly strikes against the United States and our allies,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said on the House floor before the bill sailed through. “Given these elevated threat levels, it’s crucial that our intelligence professionals receive the support they need to keep our country safe.”

The final terms of the bill were hammered out between Nunes, ranking member Adam SchiffAdam SchiffSocial media users troll GOP, Trump over ObamaCare repeal Schumer: Maybe Nunes should be replaced Devin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress MORE (D-Calif.) and the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Nunes and Schiff said.

The lack of opposition in the House sent a signal that the bill is likely to get a similarly easy passage in the Senate and will be signed into law by President Obama.

“I did not vote for the intelligence authorization when it came before the House in June, but I am proud to support it today because many of the underlying issues were resolved or significantly improved,” Schiff said on the chamber floor.

Aside from a change to avoid relying on war funds, the bill also tones back restrictions on the White House’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The new restrictions mirror those in the recently passed defense policy bill, which Obama signed last week despite the new Guantanamo language.

“I remain strongly opposed to any restrictions on closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay but as these provisions reflect what is currently in law, I support the larger bill,” Schiff said. “Especially with what happened in Paris, we need to act now to fund and enable our intelligence agencies.”

After an initial voice vote, lawmakers asked for a recorded tally on the bill. It passed overwhelmingly, 364-58.

The majority of the bill is classified, given the secretive nature of the country’s 16 federal intelligence agencies.

However, it increases funding by about 7 percent above the $50.3 billion enacted for fiscal 2015, Democrats on the committee said.

The legislation keeps a focus on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as well as al Qaeda, Nunes and Schiff maintained. It also keeps watch on Iran’s compliance with the international nuclear deal, puts an emphasis on cybersecurity and addresses intelligence capabilities in space.

The bill keeps in place language from the earlier version limiting the small federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from accessing information about any “covert action.”

Updated at 2:42 p.m.