In the wake of Nancy Pelosi’s backing of John Murtha and Alcee Hastings for key leadership positions in the new, supposedly clean Democratic-controlled Congress, one might think the Democrats would avoid the stigma of breaking another campaign promise before they even officially come to power. The Washington Post reports that they don’t appear to care, though, now that they won the midterm elections, as they prepare to back away from a widely-publicized promise:
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.
Because plans for implementing the commission’s recommendations are still fluid, Democratic officials would not speak for the record. But aides on the House and Senate appropriations, armed services and intelligence committees confirmed this week that a reorganization of Congress would not be part of the package of homeland-security changes up for passage in the “first 100 hours” of the Democratic Congress. …
It may seem like a minor matter, but members of the commission say Congress’s failure to change itself is anything but inconsequential. In 2004, the commission urged Congress to grant the House and Senate intelligence committees the power not only to oversee the nation’s intelligence agencies but also to fund them and shape intelligence policy. The intelligence committees’ gains would come at the expense of the armed services committees and the appropriations panels’ defense subcommittees. Powerful lawmakers on those panels would have to give up prized legislative turf.
I’ve never been very impressed with the panel’s recommendations, anyway. Most of them did nothing but expanded the bureaucracies that created most of the interference that kept intelligence analysts from connecting the dots, as the panel repeatedly said, prior to 9/11. The major recommendation accepted by Congress and the White House — the new National Intelligence Directorate — has turned into an exercise in empire-building. Congress had to threaten its funding when it swelled to over 1,000 employees in order to put two more layers of bureaucrats between intelligence collection and the decision-makers. The real reform came from the Patriot Act, which finally allowed law enforcement and intelligence agents to share data without fear of destroying criminal prosecutions.
However, the Democrats ran on a platform of full acceptance of the recommendations, and held that out as a key part of their electoral efforts. John Kerry did the same thing in 2004, to less effect. Now that they have won, they have raised the expectations of their supporters and the backers of the 9/11 Commission. Even before their majority has taken the oath of office, they will dash those expectations and set themselves up for a round of recriminations.
People should take note of the reforms that the Democrats wish to pursue in this next session of Congress. They want to clear out the Republicans from the levers of power, but offered John Murtha for Majority Leader, along with his pork-barrel extortive politics and the legacy of Abscam. They promised a tough and competent effort on national security, but offered a disgraced and impeached former judge to run the Intelligence Committee. Democrats pledged to take immediate action on all of the Commission’s recommendations, but they will balk at any meaningful reform that limits the power of their master appropriators, including Murtha himself.
In other words, the Democrats plan on using Intelligence budgets the same way that both parties have used them in the past: as a means to perform favors for powerful friends. Those who believed they voted for change in the midterms might find themselves vindicated; it looks like Congress will change for the worse, and in record time at that.