Congress

‘A blank check’ for Trump administration? Tweak in funding bill worries Senate intel leaders

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., arrives for a closed-door Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., arrives for a closed-door Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018. AP

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned Monday that a small change in the short-term funding bill passed to keep the government open could give the Trump administration unchecked powers over intelligence programs.

The continuing resolution to fund the government sent to President Donald Trump on Monday also includes funding for children’s health care, delays to several tax provisions and, unhappily for North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, a language change that impacts who decides how funds are spent by the intelligence community.

“This language could erode the powers of the authorizing committee. Effectively, the intelligence community could expend funds as it sees fit,” said Burr, the chairman of the intelligence committee which is running a high-profile investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Said Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and the ranking member of the minority party on the committee: “We just want to make sure that we don’t give a blank check to any administration, particularly this administration. We need to get it fixed.”

Burr attempted to remove the language on the Senate floor, but his move required unanimous consent, and fellow Republican Thad Cochran – the chairman of the appropriations committee – objected, ending the effort.

“It should have never been in there, but this seems to be a fight between appropriators and authorizers in the House,” Burr said, referring to appropriations committee members and intelligence committee members.

The language was added to the House bill at the request of the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump administration, according to The Washington Post. House appropriators told the paper that the provision is not nearly as sweeping as the senators have made it out to be and that it didn’t actually change anything.

Some language needed to be added to the continuing resolution to give the executive branch authority to spend money since a full budget has not yet been passed, according to a briefing document from the intelligence committee.

The change, outlined the intelligence committee, “undermines more than 30 years of practice in ensuring the intelligence committees provide the necessary oversight.”

The change is good only for the length of the funding bill, which runs through Feb. 8, Burr said.

The short time frame, however, doesn’t alleviate his concerns.

Said Warner: “I’m not sure where this all originated, but I know that Richard Burr and I are pretty concerned about a way to get it fixed.”

Brian Murphy: 202-383-6089, @MurphinDC

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