McCain attacks omnibus bill for usurping intel and defense committee turf

posted at 1:21 pm on January 16, 2014 by Ed Morrissey

As Nancy Pelosi likes to say, you can’t find out what’s in a bill until you pass it … or until someone reads it. The Washington Post reported this morning that a clause in the omnibus spending package passed by the House last night contained an interesting line item inserted by appropriators. The bill denied any funding to switch the drone program from CIA to Defense, as the White House planned:

Congress has moved to block President Obama’s plan to shift control of the U.S. drone campaign from the CIA to the Defense Department, inserting a secret provision in the massive government spending bill introduced this week that would preserve the spy agency’s role in lethal counterterrorism operations, U.S. officials said.

The measure, included in a classified annex to the $1.1 trillion federal budget plan, would restrict the use of any funding to transfer unmanned aircraft or the authority to carry out drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, officials said.

The provision represents an unusually direct intervention by lawmakers into the way covert operations are run, impeding an administration plan aimed at returning the CIA’s focus to traditional intelligence gathering and possibly bringing more transparency to drone strikes.

The problem is that the DoD has some target selection issues, as the Post’s Greg Miller goes on to note:

Those apprehensions were amplified after a U.S. military strike in Yemen last month killed a dozen people, including as many as six civilians, in an 11-vehicle convoy that tribal leaders said was part of a wedding procession. U.S. officials said that the strike was aimed at a senior al-Qaeda operative but that reviews of the operation have raised concern that it failed to comply with White House guidelines requiring “near certainty” that no civilians would be harmed.

On Wednesday, there were reports that another U.S. strike had killed a farmer in Yemen.

The “secret” provision didn’t stay secret for long. After the Post’s report went out, an angry John McCain took to the Senate floor to rip appropriators in both chambers for overstepping their bounds:

Waving around a copy of The Post while speaking on the Senate floor, McCain blasted his colleagues on the Senate and House Appropriations committee for making such a key decision without formally and publicly consulting the authorizing committees for the CIA and Defense Department.

“The Appropriations Committee has no business making these decisions,” he said. “The job of the Armed Services Committee and the job of the Intelligence Committee is to authorize these things. There was no hearing on the Intelligence Committee. There was  no hearing on the Armed Services Committee.”

“The appropriations have gotten into the business of the authorizing committees,” he added later. “That is a violation of every procedure and process that this Senate is supposed to be pursuing.”

The big question should be whether the shift of drone warfare to Defense is wise. Target selection and competence comes into play here, but there are legitimate questions of transparency involved, too. However, one can’t help but think that politics might be taking precedence over results here. Obama gets hammered on drone policy from the Left, and he might be looking for ways to limit the damage by making it more transparent — which might have the effect of making it less effective, too, as well as less accurate.

For an example of the attacks Obama gets from his allies on this, here’s the transcript from Greta van Susteren noting that Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright made a pointed comparison between Martin Luther King, Jr and Obama, and CNN also covered the remarks:

VAN SUSTEREN: And Griff Jenkins joins us live from Chicago. Griff, that didn’t quite work out as well as you had planned.

JENKINS: Hi, Greta. Well, after being invited to his speech, Reverend Wright completely ignored us, all of us in the media, and kicked our cameras out when he gave his speech, for which we found out why, the content of the speech. Reverend Wright wasted no time launching into his incendiary remarks, many of which were directed at President Obama, saying things like we need to tell the truth about our politicians and their policies. He used lines and I, quote. “King said, ‘I have a dream.’ Barack said, ‘I have a drone’.” He went on to describe a kill list that President Obama looks at every Tuesday and chooses who he is going to kill.

To McCain’s point, though, how should Congress formulate their policy? The reason why both chambers have intelligence and armed services committees is so that they can specialize on those policy areas and make wise decisions … or at least wiser. At the very least, appropriators should have consulted those committees before inserting secret provisions that usurp their jurisdiction.

And this leaves another pertinent question: Just how many more secret provisions are in this omnibus spending bill, and what do those do? We’ll see if McCain forces the Senate to slow down on this bill and get people to take a closer look at it so that we don’t discover just those nuggets that the media find interesting.


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Business as usual…

OmahaConservative on January 16, 2014 at 1:23 PM

“FIGHT WITH ME, MY FRIENDS!!”

ToddPA on January 16, 2014 at 1:23 PM

Cut retirement funding for vets.

Kept tax refunds for illegal aliens.

Schadenfreude on January 16, 2014 at 1:23 PM

reviews of the operation have raised concern that it failed to comply with White House guidelines requiring “near certainty” that no civilians would be harmed

We. Are. At. War. Civilians are going to be killed, which is another reason why war is not a good thing. But if Muslim terrorists are going to hide behind women’s skirts, well that is on them.

rbj on January 16, 2014 at 1:26 PM

“The Appropriations Committee has no business making these decisions,” he said. “The job of the Armed Services Committee and the job of the Intelligence Committee is to authorize these things. There was no hearing on the Intelligence Committee. There was no hearing on the Armed Services Committee.”

If I didn’t know better, I would swear that McCain was a Republican when he says stuff like this.

He’s right, of course. But is he angry at how the decision was made or because somebody dared to step on his toes?

Happy Nomad on January 16, 2014 at 1:28 PM

We are beyond the point kids….our courts cannot be made fair and just from within; neither political party can be forced to represent the common man from within; and our government cannot be made honest or transparent from within. To play games of activism within establishment dominated systems is to play make-believe within a surrealist nightmare; a piece of “Alice in Wonderland” political quackery. Like the audience at Josef’s trial in Kafka’s The Trial, the elites simply laugh at such activists, or feign applause, while continuing forever with the same corruption and the criminal status quo.

roflmmfao

donabernathy on January 16, 2014 at 1:32 PM

OT- Gallup daily tracker has Obama approval down at 39%. I wonder if this is a reaction to Captain Kickass’s comments that he was going to do everything by EO.

Happy Nomad on January 16, 2014 at 1:32 PM

Wow. McCain’s talking tough. I guess his aides forgot to tell him that he is not running this year.

Kafir on January 16, 2014 at 1:35 PM

Why have HA comments been so low in numbers lately?

OmahaConservative on January 16, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Screw you McLame…..

ARIZONA’S MARICOPA COUNTY REPUBLICANS CENSURE JOHN MCCAIN FOR ABANDONING VALUES

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Government/2014/01/12/AZ-GOP-county-censures-John-McCain-for-abandoning-Republican-values

redguy on January 16, 2014 at 1:41 PM

That censure resolution must have hurt

cmsinaz on January 16, 2014 at 1:42 PM

And this leaves another pertinent question: Just how many more secret provisions are in this omnibus spending bill, and what do those do? We’ll see if McCain forces the Senate to slow down on this bill and get people to take a closer look at it so that we don’t discover just those nuggets that the media find interesting.


Let me get this straight, Ed
.

When the Ryan-Murray bill was slammed through in a rush before Christmas every single editor of Hot Air found NOTHING to object to even though it:

1) Killed sequestration and the reduction of the budget defecits.

2) Overturned Senate procedures enabling Harry Reid to further increase the defecit spending with a simple 51 vote majority.

But let someone step on McCain’s Senate privileges, THEN you find something to object to in the New Normal?

OK, got it!

Hot Air’s new motto: All GOPe RINO, All the time.

Which makes your unending angst and non-stop coverage over Chris Christie’s political problems completely logical.

PolAgnostic on January 16, 2014 at 1:42 PM

Why have HA comments been so low in numbers lately?

OmahaConservative on January 16, 2014 at 1:41 PM

.
Easy, read this:

PolAgnostic on January 16, 2014 at 1:42 PM

.
and if you’re interested, I can re-post examples documenting Hot Air’s All GOPe RINO, All the time stance starting on 10/11/2013 when the GOPe Donor Class decalred war on the conservatives and Tea Party members of the Republican Party.

Most conservatives are getting MORE than disgusted with the RINO outlook of the Hot Air editors and abandoning participation in this site.

PolAgnostic on January 16, 2014 at 1:47 PM

Yawn.

Thanks for the pathetic 2008 campaign, McCain.

BuckeyeSam on January 16, 2014 at 1:48 PM

The reason why both chambers have intelligence and armed services committees is so that they can specialize on those policy areas and make wise decisions … or at least wiser.

Really? When is this (wiser decision making) going to start? It’s been sorely lacking for the past couple of decades.

RoadRunner on January 16, 2014 at 1:49 PM

PolAgnostic on January 16, 2014 at 1:47 PM

I think this was the beginning of the end…

OmahaConservative on January 16, 2014 at 1:55 PM

What in the heck is GOPe?

Marco on January 16, 2014 at 1:56 PM

Any piece of legislation with the word or connotation of “omnibus” should be rendered unconstitutional.

The Framers never planned on such obfuscating, liberty stealing legislative methods.

You would think that after Obamacare, Congress would have learned that.

By the way, thanks Paul Ryan.

Marcus Traianus on January 16, 2014 at 2:06 PM

What in the heck is GOPe?

Marco on January 16, 2014 at 1:56 PM

.
The GOP establishment – the unelected people who run the party, hand out the money and decide policy.

Here’s a worthwhile column from the Washington Examiner you WON”T see mentioned on Hot Air:

Conservative insurgents strike blow against GOP Establishment

Cold cash, together with control of institutions, is what makes the Establishment the Establishment. But in the current Republican civil war, the insurgents have secured their own money pipelines, and they control their own institutions – which means the GOP leadership and its allies in the business lobby have a hard fight in front of them.

The firing and hiring of conservative staffer Paul Teller makes it clear that the anti-establishment has built its own establishment.

Teller was a House staffer for more than a decade, and was longtime executive director of the conservative Republican Study Committee. The RSC always exerted a rightward pull on party leadership, but it is nonetheless a subsidiary of the party.

After the 2012 election, the Republican Establishment captured the RSC, in effect, by getting Congressman Steve Scalise elected chairman. Scalise is a conservative, but he is also a close ally of the party leadership – much more so than his predecessors Jim Jordan and Tom Price. Scalise immediately swept out most of the RSC staff.

Last month, Teller was accused of working with outside groups such as Heritage Action to whip RSC members – and Scalise showed Teller the door.

In the old days, this might have been a disaster for Teller. He had lost his job and landed on the wrong side of the party leadership. Anyone who picked up Teller would be spitting in the eye of the Establishment. But this week, Sen. Ted Cruz announced he had hired Teller as deputy chief of staff.

The Establishment no longer has the power it once had to demand obedience.

How did the party leadership maintain such power in the past? Basically with money. Party leaders had a near monopoly on access to money, both in terms of raising funds for candidates and landing jobs for individuals.

Floor leaders and committee chairmen have always been the GOP’s main contact point with corporations’ political action committees and lobbyists. If a member stays on the good side of party leaders, the leaders make a phone call to a lobbyist who throws the member a fundraiser.

Similarly, if a staffer always played nice with the Establishment, that brought with it job security: Even if your boss retired, you could land on your feet, as the leadership would recommend you for a job in another office, or K Street would hire you.

You can see how this would make dissenting staffers and members watch their words and actions. Sure, members were allowed to vote against the leadership – as long as the leadership didn’t need your vote. But at the end of the day, you had to play ball, otherwise you got no money for re-election, and no jobs for you or your staff.

But Teller landed on his feet — and today any conservative staffer disposed to fight the party leadership can hold out the same hope. The GOP Establishment has lost its monopoly, and the insurgents now have many bases of power – and thus many sources of money.

Conservative activist groups have always existed inside the GOP, but because they couldn’t raise and distribute large amounts of money, they functioned mostly through moral suasion – which means they were largely powerless. Eventually, these Beltway conservative groups grew dependent on the GOP, and instead of holding the party accountable, they often ended up being the establishment’s liaison to the conservative base.

Today’s conservative groups are fully armed, though. Thanks to advances in Internet fundraising and changes in campaign finance laws, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and the Club for Growth can raise and spend enough money to compete in GOP primaries with the Chamber of Commerce and lobbying firms.

Beyond these new pipelines of campaign cash, the insurgents now control institutions – institutions they created, and ones they took over. Jim DeMint, who founded the Senate Conservatives Fund in 2008, left Congress in 2013 to head the Heritage Foundation.

Heritage used to be a faithful ally of the GOP – at least when it counted most. Under DeMint, Heritage is a scourge of the GOP leadership and an enforcer of a hard limited-government line.

And the Senate offices of Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul are three insurgent beachheads on Capitol Hill. Being a senator doesn’t merely give one a vote — it gives these men the budget to staff a congressional office. As they gain seniority, the Tea Partiers will get control over budgets for committee staffs.

When a member’s re-election, or a staffer’s ability to pay the mortgage, doesn’t depend on the Establishment’s favor, the Establishment may need to find a new way to gain conservatives’ loyalty.

PolAgnostic on January 16, 2014 at 2:15 PM

Why have HA comments been so low in numbers lately?

OmahaConservative on January 16, 2014 at 1:41 PM

Going the way of the GOP…but it’s not official, yet…for same reasons…

Schadenfreude on January 16, 2014 at 2:21 PM

So let me see if I have this right. Senators are getting upset that the correct committee wasn’t consulted, yet on Obama’s un-Constitutional recess appointments, there was (and is) silence?

*sigh*

Kevin K. on January 16, 2014 at 2:49 PM