WASHINGTON – Sponsors of the intelligence reform bill currently being debated in the Senate expressed confidence Monday that they would beat back proposed amendments they say would weaken the powers of the national intelligence director (search).
One of the biggest fights that sponsors Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., are facing comes from appropriators who want to retain the "power of the purse." Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., the chairman and ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee (search), are among some members opposed to provisions that turn over too much budgetary power to the NID.
Authority over the budget is one of the key turf battles expected in overhauling congressional oversight of the intelligence community.
Speaking to the removal of power from appropriators to decide how the classified intelligence budget is spent, Byrd said Monday on the Senate floor that lawmakers "need more time to discuss this amendment and to discuss this bill."
Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., added that the current bill would give Congress the authority to make changes "only retroactively."
"Should we have accountability, as Senator Byrd said, when we take taxpayers' money and spend that money? Should we have accountability with respect to how that money is spent? This isn't about Republicans or Democrats or conservatives or liberals, it's about accountability," said Dorgan, an Appropriations Committee member.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who joined Collins and Lieberman, said a "strong movement" is afoot in Congress to maintain the status quo despite recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission (search), on which the proposed reforms are based, to change congressional oversight structures as well.
"There are three kinds of senators — Democrats, Republicans and appropriators," McCain said. "The appropriators are desperately trying to protect their turf, and if we do not make changes ... there will be no reform and a vital part of the 9/11 recommendations will be neutered."
Meanwhile, the 22 senators appointed to a task force to figure out how to implement changes in congressional oversight emerged from a meeting Monday afternoon with a list of recommendations.
The list contains relatively minor rule changes, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said some opposition remains to the substance of the recommendations. The list, which must go before the Senate Rules Committee this week, before it reaches the Senate floor, includes enhancing the structure of the Senate Intelligence Committee by:
— eliminating term limits for committee members;
— ensuring the majority has no more than a one-member advantage;
— maintaining apportioned slots for Armed Services Committee members to serve as non-voting members of the Intelligence Committee;
— reducing the size of the committee to 15 members;
— elevating the status of the committee;
— giving the committee a stronger role in reviewing civilian intelligence nominees;
— creating a subcommittee on oversight; and
— requiring the committee to make regular reports to the Senate.
The working group also recommended consolidating appropriations authority over intelligence by creating an appropriations subcommittee for intelligence and combining the military construction and defense subcommittees. Lastly, it suggested the Senate create a Homeland Security Authorization Committee by adding jurisdiction to and renaming the Senate Government Affairs Committee.
It's not clear whether as a package these recommendations would require 60 or 67 votes to implement because some of the recommendations, for instance, changing the term limit for Intelligence Committee members, are resolution changes rather than changes in the standing rules of the Senate. Resolution changes require 60 votes, but changes to the standing rules of the Senate require 67 votes.
Asked earlier in the day whether reformers would have the votes to beat back the amendments to withhold budget authority to the NID and other changes that could water down the reforms, Collins said she couldn't know for sure because the votes don't fall on party lines.
"I'm hopeful we will be successful," Collins said.
Lieberman added: "The arguments are on our side ... [while] I don't underestimate the power of these people ... I am encouraged by the bipartisan support [for the key principles] of this bill."
Senators are expected to vote on Tuesday whether to invoke cloture (search), or cut off debate on the bill, so they can go to an up or down vote. Final passage in the Senate could come as early as Tuesday night.
Collins said she and Lieberman have already had three conversations with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., and ranking member Jane Harman, D-Calif., to talk about some of the issues they may confront in conference.
The Republican-sponsored House bill differs significantly from the Senate measure. Among other matters, it includes provisions that would hike law enforcement powers and toughen rules on illegal immigrants.
FOX News' Julie Asher contributed to this report.