Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Intel Reform Bill Would Allow Snooping into Tax Returns

WASHINGTON Nov 21, 2004 — Unwilling to concede defeat, congressional leaders expressed hope Sunday that lawmakers could return next month to resolve a turf battle that has blocked passage of an overhaul of the nation's intelligence agencies. Much depends on whether President Bush is more active in bringing his own troops in line, they said.

"For us to do the bill in early December it will take significant involvement by the president and the vice president," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. "It will take real focus on their part."
During a chaotic Saturday that was intended as the final meeting of the 108th Congress, negotiators announced a compromise on the intelligence bill. Hours later, opposition from the Republican chairmen of two committees stymied the legislation, which would create a national intelligence director.

Reflecting Pentagon concerns about the legislation, California Rep. Duncan Hunter of the House Armed Services warned that the bill could interfere with the military chain of command and endanger troops in the field. Wisconsin Rep. James Sensenbrenner of the House Judiciary Committee demanded that the bill deal with illegal immigration.

Congress did manage to pass a 3,000-page, $388 billion spending bill that covers most nondefense and non-security programs for the budget year that began Oct. 1.

But there will be a delay in getting President Bush's signature. The hang-up is because of a single line in the bill that would have given two committee chairmen and their assistants access to people's income tax returns.
The Senate approved a resolution nullifying the idea; House leaders promised to pass it on Wednesday. Then, the spending bill will head to the White House.

"I have no earthly idea how it got in there," Frist said on "Fox News Sunday." "But, obviously, somebody is going to know, and accountability will be carried out."

Frist referred to the bill Saturday night as the "Istook amendment," and congressional aides said it was inserted at the request of Rep. Ernest Istook Jr., R-Okla.

Istook, chairman of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee, said in a statement Sunday that the Internal Revenue Service drafted the language, which would not have allowed any inspections of tax returns. "Nobody's privacy was ever jeopardized," the statement said.



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