House seeks more access to spy secrets

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WASHINGTON -- The House on Wednesday passed legislation governing next year's intelligence budget that demands lawmakers be given greater access to the nation's most closely held secrets.

The bill is the latest attempt by Democrats, struggling to challenge President Bush on major national security issues, to step up their role in overseeing an intelligence program they say has gone astray. Lawmakers complain that the Bush administration left most of them out of the loop on highly classified -- and controversial -- matters, including creation and destruction of CIA interrogation tapes and Bush's warrantless wiretapping program.

The bill would block two-thirds of the federal covert operations budget until each member of the congressional intelligence committees is briefed on all secret operations underway. Panel members also would be granted access to any other details necessary to assess the value of intelligence operations.

The White House has threatened to veto the bill because it says it would go too far and infringe upon the president's right to protect intelligence. In a statement Wednesday, the administration said the bill could expose information previously protected under executive privilege, including predecision legal opinions, risk assessments and cost estimates.

The legislation "would undermine long-standing arrangements between Congress and the president regarding reporting of sensitive intelligence matters," the statement said.

The Senate still has to take up its version of the bill before a final measure can be sent to the president to sign.

Increased AIDS funding

The Senate voted Wednesday to triple spending for a much-acclaimed program that has treated and protected millions in Africa and elsewhere from the scourges of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.

The 80-16 vote committed the United States to spending up to $48 billion over the next five years for the most ambitious foreign public health program ever launched by the United States.

The legislation would replace and expand the current $15 billion act that President Bush championed in a State of the Union address and Congress passed in 2003. That act expires at the end of September.

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