The top two lawmakers in the Senate Intelligence Committee are concerned that their oversight power has been stripped down under a provision quietly slipped into the short-term spending bill which ended the government shutdown.
The provision, which was requested by the White House and Pentagon, allows the White House to work around a law that requires intelligence agencies to get authorization from intelligence committees before spending taxpayer money, lawmakers said, according to a USA Today report.
"You could potentially have an administration — any administration — go off and take on covert activities ... with no ability for our committee ... to say 'time out' or to say we actually disagree with that policy," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., who is ranking member of the Senate intelligence panel.
Warner complained that the controversial provision was “slipped in” by the House Appropriations Committee, telling USA Today that the language was requested by the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Defense.
Under Section 504 of the National Security Act, congressional intelligence committees are allowed to withhold money from the intelligence agencies if they object to activities such as surveillance programs.
Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the Senate intelligence panel, said this move would raise red flags with him no matter who is the president.
"We take our oversight role extremely serious," Burr explained. "We want every tool in our basket that we can to give the American people the assurance that we know exactly what's going on."
On Monday, Burr offered an amendment to strip this provision from the short-term spending bill, which is set to expire on Feb. 8th, but Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., blocked the vote, citing the Trump administration's request. Still, Warner and Burr are committed to getting legislation passed next month.
Warner said that anyone who disagrees with the amendment should have "to explain to the American people why ... they would want to give any administration ... a blank check."