Skip to comments.Dems seek partisan Intel staff
Posted on 05/03/2004 8:38:09 PM PDT by Utah Girl
Several Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats favor creating two separate partisan staffs on the panel so that Democrats can control half of its resources, according to sources.
Some aides say the proposal, if implemented, could lead to enhanced oversight of the Intelligence community, which historically has had close some say excessively close ties with the unified, nonpartisan staff in the Senate.
But intelligence matters are so sensitive this election year that no Democrats are claiming ownership of the idea, although it has been a topic of discussion among senators and staff.
Democratic senators raised the issue at a recent caucus meeting on intelligence oversight attended by former Vice President Al Gore, sources said.
Democratic staffers also have been discussing this proposed change and others as a possible trade-off in the event that the panel moves to lift its eight-year term limit for members. The panel, which is investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, also has looked into the idea as part of a broad examination of how to improve congressional oversight of intelligence agencies.
But Republican panel members said a staff split might disrupt the bipartisan comity that has characterized the panel and has made the committee a stark contrast with other Senate panels, notably the Judiciary Committee, that have become partisan battlegrounds.
Thats probably not a good idea, said Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), a senior Intelligence Committee member. This has been a bipartisan committee, and I think it should stay that way.
The idea of splitting the staff has not been a part of staff negotiations on an intelligence authorization bill being marked up this week, so no immediate action is likely. But a number of Senate Democrats have expressed keen interest in intelligence issues this year, raising the possibility that such proposals could emerge in committee, on the floor or as part of a later intelligence reform package.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), when questioned last week about another proposal to lift restrictions on the terms of service on the Select Intelligence Committee membership, responded: Its not so much the length of terms; its having the resources and the staffing to do the job.
Permanent committees have no term limits. If were going to make it permanent, then it should be dealt with like a normal committee, where the majority and minority have their own pots of money, said one Democratic aide.
A Democratic aide said panel members Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) all spoke favorably about creating separate Republican and Democratic staffs at the recent Democratic Policy Committee luncheon. Bayhs spokeswoman, however, said Bayh was agnostic on the topic and favored providing greater resources to the staff. Mikulskis office declined to comment.
Todd Webster, a Daschle spokesman, said Daschle had not signaled any support for the idea in private or in talks with Republicans. He said the responsible way to go would be to hear from a commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, consider their recommendations and move forward from there.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), ranking Democrat, pushed to create two partisan staffs at the start of the Congress eventually winning new control over a limited number of staff members. Last week, he said Intelligence really is nonpartisan. Its set up that way, [but] it does not always operate that way.
Rockefeller, without endorsing any changes, noted that Democrats exercise control over a minority of staff slots. He said it was very helpful for each member to have a designated staffer in oversight hearings. Republicans sometimes made similar arguments when they were in the minority.
Under terms worked out at the start of the Congress, the minority gained the ability to hire one staffer for each Democratic panel member. But the majority Republicans still control most committee money, on a staff of more than 35.
Some Republicans also oppose Daschles push to boost staff resources. We dont need more money; we need to do our work, said Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.).
The Intelligence Committee has a budget of about $7.4 million, some $3 million to $4 million of it for salaries. By comparison, the Banking Committee has a staff budget of about $10.3 million.
Democrats historically have hated the way the panels unified staff was organized, a committee aide said, explaining: When youre in the minority, you dont have much ability for mischief.
Former Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) resisted creating partisan staffs, as did the current chairman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who didnt think it was appropriate for intelligence oversight, the aide added. If there were partisan staffs, political influences on oversight would be unbridled.
But the current system gives all the authority to the majority staff director, hired and supervised by the majority party, another well-placed source said.
Whoever is the staff director controls the place lock, stock and barrel, said the source, adding that Republicans and Democrats alike have chafed under the system when in the minority.
Other panels with critical responsibilities, including Armed Services and Foreign Relations, generally exhibit bipartisan cooperation, even though their separate staffs answer to Democratic and Republican committee members.
Members are much more sensitive at having staff that are much more loyal to them and share their values or life, said the source. They get nervous on both sides when the other party was choosing the staff for them.
The Senate resolution that created the intelligence panel provided a narrow one-vote margin for the majority to try to force bipartisan accommodation.
Bipartisanship, said the source, is a frame of mind.
Yeah, Jay. Sure. We noticed. I'm sure your staffer's recommendation to drag out the inquiry as long as possible, then use it as a club against the President as the election approached was "non-partisan".
Go pound sand, you partisan S.O.B.