WASHINGTON – The House overwhelmingly approved a bill Friday spelling out policy for the nation's spy agencies, rejecting White House requests that would have expanded an intelligence community that's been growing exponentially since Sept. 11, 2001.
The vote Friday was 384-14, with lawmakers praising the work of the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and other government entities in the decade since nearly 3,000 died in the attacks on New York and Washington and in Pennsylvania.
"As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we're reminded of the need for a strong, effective intelligence community to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again," said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. The legislation "provides the men and women of our intelligence agencies with the tools and resources they need to keep Americans safe."
Although the intelligence budget is classified, the bill totals more than $80 billion, say two U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret figure.
The House price tag came in lower than the White House sought, by cutting out what committee members thought were duplications in staff or competing missions among different agencies.
"We are going to keep looking for efficiencies where we can," said House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who insisted the trimming would not impact national security.
The cuts were mainly to requests for additional intelligence staff, though the bill does approve more personnel for analysis and parts of the counterterrorism mission, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.
Leaders in the House dropped two provisions that had drawn a veto threat from President Barack Obama just two days ago.
The administration had expressed concern over a requirement that the director of national intelligence provide the committee with cables, memos and other information on detainees held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as government-to-government information on the transfer of terror suspects.
"The administration believes that such disclosure will have a significant adverse impact on the willingness of foreign partners, who often expressly request this information not be disseminated, to communicate frankly on these matters," the Obama administration had said in a statement.
The administration also objected to a provision requiring that the Senate confirm nominees for director of the National Security Agency.
The House intelligence committee dropped the controversial proposals, but has not given up on either issue, choosing to fight those battles outside the bill, say congressional officials working on the legislation.
The Senate intelligence committee is also considering dropping the provisions, because of progress in ongoing negotiations with the White House to resolve those issues, a U.S. official said Friday. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to talk about sensitive discussions.
The Senate still must approve the bill before sending it to Obama.
The House bill includes a provision providing for a burial benefit for CIA employees killed in the line of duty and allowing CIA employees to provide gifts to the family members of those killed.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., had said the CIA indicated it needed the provision after the December 2009 attack on a U.S. base in Khost, Afghanistan, that killed seven CIA officers.