It was a solemn pledge, repeated by Democratic leaders and candidates over and over: If elected to the majority in Congress, Democrats would implement all of the recommendations of the bipartisan commission that examined the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
But with control of Congress now secured, Democratic leaders have decided for now against implementing the one measure that would affect them most directly: a wholesale reorganization of Congress to improve oversight and funding of the nation's intelligence agencies. Instead, Democratic leaders may create a panel to look at the issue and produce recommendations, according to congressional aides and lawmakers.
We will make our nation safer and we will begin by implementing the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission.
Reform intelligence oversight: D
Declassify overall intelligence budget: F
Time and again, the commission criticized Congress for its resistance to institutional changes that would improve legislative oversight over the executive branch's intelligence operations. The commission called for a strengthened committee system in both chambers and more openness about the intelligence budget. Congress has achieved neither goal -- because of the lack of support from House and Senate leaders and the White House, and because of turf battles within the executive and legislative branches.
Last year, Congress rejected the commission's recommendation to create one joint, bicameral intelligence panel with power to both authorize and appropriate funding for intelligence activities.
"I don't think anybody welcomed that proposal," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. House and Senate appropriators rejected the idea because it would take away their power to steer money as they saw fit, he said. "It wouldn't serve the interests of those who benefit from the status quo."
The Senate passed a resolution in 2004 to create an intelligence subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, but the House took no similar action. Aftergood said the House GOP leadership opposed the creation of an intelligence appropriations subcommittee partly as a way to duck the 9/11 commission's related reform proposal: disclosure of the intelligence community's top-line budget figure. Most experts agree that creating Appropriations subpanels on intelligence would pressure Congress to publicly reveal the intelligence budget.
The Senate attached a proposal to declassify the intelligence budget to the 2004 legislation that overhauled the intelligence community. The GOP-led House and the White House objected to the provision, however.
In House-Senate negotiations, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and then-Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., led the successful fight to remove the language from the bill. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney backed Hunter and Lewis, according to sources familiar with the negotiations.
As long as the overall intelligence budget remains classified, and dwells primarily within the Pentagon, oversight of the intelligence community will remain weak, critics contend. "The intelligence community goes around the authorizing committees because they don't have control over the money," Hamilton said. "You need a subcommittee that focuses exclusively on intelligence to have robust oversight."
The bureaucratic stakes also became higher after the intelligence reform bill passed in 2004. Declassifying the intelligence budget would have strengthened John Negroponte, the new national intelligence director, at the expense of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. The Pentagon steadfastly opposed any such move.
As reported by today's WaPo, Nancy Pelosi has not made this difficult task any easier with her ham-handed handling of Murtha and Hastings. However, in the heady glow of the election victory, some anonymous Dem was trying to keep hope alive:
A Democratic leadership source, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the plans are not final, said Pelosi is likely to reorganize House committees to streamline jurisdiction over security matters.
Whether that was a leak from someone who knew Ms. Pelosi's thinking or someone hoping to influence her thinking is impossible to tell. But weeks later, the reform towel is being hefted for tossability, as Dems prepare to throw it in.
NOTE: Many links courtesy of Media Matters, who were explaining a few days ago that the Dems had plenty to do and the will to do it.
MORE: Help Nancy Keep Her Promises! Ms. Pelosi promised "the most honest, most open, and most ethical Congress in history". Hmm - with Murtha and Hastings, she certainly could have made history. Justin Rood of the TPM Muckrakers is helping her with a trifecta:
Here's a third Democrat heading for a powerful post whom folks may want to keep an eye on.
Mr. Rood's excellent job leaves me with one question - he says this:
The investigation appears to be active and ongoing. We're told that the Feds continue to gather information on the guy.
Can we get any characterization at all of the sources who provided the "we're told"? Are they in a position to know, and are they in a position to be aiming knives at Hollohan's back?
As lawmakers have increasingly slipped pet projects into federal spending bills over the past decade, one lawmaker has used his powerful perch on the House Appropriations Committee to funnel $250 million into five nonprofit organizations that he set up.
The five organizations have diverse missions but form a cozy, cross-pollinated network in the forlorn former coal capitals of north-central West Virginia. Mr. Mollohan has recruited many of their top employees and board members, including longtime friends or former aides, who in turn provide him with steady campaign contributions and positive publicity in their newsletters.
Since we are in West Virginia, I know you are curious about any Sen. Robert Byrd connection - Byrd is described as Mollohan's "mentor" by the Times.