Senator Ben Nelson Votes With Panel Republicans to Restore Funding For Vice President's Office

The White House scored a win Thursday on Capitol Hill after a moderate Senate Democrat broke with his party to restore funding for Vice President Dick Cheney's office.

The 15-14 vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee came after the House last month narrowly rejected a companion bid to punish Cheney in a continuing battle over whether he is complying with national security disclosure rules.

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., switched his position from a subcommittee vote Tuesday.

Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and the author of a bill funding the White House budget and other agencies, had refused to fund the vice president's $4.8 million budget, arguing that Cheney's office is refusing to comply with parts of an executive order governing its handling of classified information.

At issue is a requirement that executive branch offices provide data on how much material they classify and declassify. That information is to be provided to the Information Security Oversight Office at The National Archives.

Cheney's office, backed up by a letter Thursday from White House Counsel Fred Fielding, insists the offices of the president and vice president are exempt from the order because they are not executive branch "agencies."

Cheney's staff had complied with a similar executive order issue by President Clinton, but more recently it has rebuffed the archives.

Democrats have had less to say about the issue at hand than what they contend is a continuing pattern of Cheney's bullying in his wielding of power both inside the administration and in his dealings with Congress.

"There's a developing sensitivity about the arrogance of power," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "Shape up, adhere to the law."

Nelson, who cited Fielding's letter when he changed his position, often votes with the White House. It didn't hurt the vice president's cause that Cheney bypassed opportunities to attack Nelson in his re-election campaign last year.

"The president has the power and authority to issue executive orders to do exactly what he wants," said Nelson, a former governor.

Cheney spokeswoman Megan McGinn said, "We are pleased to see the Senate Appropriations Committee reject this political stunt."

"Had the vice president spent as much time attempting to comply with the executive order and work with the National Archives as he did lobbying senators, we would have easily resolved this important issue this week," said Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker.

The tempest originally attracted widespread media attention after Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., charged that Cheney's office's had originally argued to the Archives that it did not have to comply with the order because it was not "an entity within the executive branch."

The 15-14 Appropriations Committee vote to restore Cheney's budget came as the panel approved a bill that funds the White House budget, among other agencies.