WASHINGTON (CNN) – A day after reports that former Vice President Cheney instructed the Central Intelligence Agency not to share with Congress information about a specific intelligence program, Republicans are attempting to downplay a possible violation of the laws governing intelligence gathering while Democrats are attempting to sound an alarm about the possibility of Congress being denied critical information affecting national security.
“That’s a serious breach,” Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Fellow Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan said she would be “extremely surprised” if a loophole in the laws governing briefing Congress would justify what the CIA reportedly did at Cheney’s direction.
Stebanow said reports that Cheney had directed the withholding of information from Congress were “very, very serious.”
“But this really, goes to a larger question that we struggled with throughout the [George W.] Bush presidency – which is checks and balances.”
“There is a reason why we have checks and balances,” Stabenow also said Sunday, “we don’t have a dictatorship. We have a Congress that is a responsible to oversee and to ask questions on behalf of the people. And I think that’s what we saw continually challenged,” during the last administration.
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg said that, if true, reports about Cheney’s directions to the CIA suggested actions that were not appropriate but the senator also said Sunday that the recent reports might be the beginning of using the intelligence agency as “a whipping boy.” That kind of reaction runs the risk of undermining the morale of the agency while it is playing a critical role in battling terrorism, Gregg also said.
Fellow Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander suggested that concerns among Congressional Democrats about the extent of briefings by the CIA might undermine the agency’s mission.
“The CIA is in the secrecy business . . . the best way to ruin the secrecy business is to tell a lot of Members of Congress,” Alexander told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Alexander suggested that the so-called “gang of eight,” Congressional leaders with responsibility for overseeing intelligence, should sit down with President Obama and the new CIA director ask for the information they are entitled to under the nation’s intelligence laws.
(CNN) - Sen. John McCain thinks we haven't heard the last about allegations that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered secrecy for a CIA surveillance operation after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
"If I know Washington, this is the beginning of a pretty involved and detailed story," McCain said Sunday on the NBC program "Meet the Press."
According to a New York Times report, Cheney ordered the CIA to withhold information about the unspecified program from Congress.
CIA Director Leon Panetta told the House Intelligence Committee last month about the program, which he said had been shut down.
McCain said he knew little about the program and offered no details. He said he expected Cheney, who has yet to comment on the story, to speak up.
"The vice president should be heard from" about the accusations leveled against him, McCain said.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – President Obama’s ambitious goal of having health care reform legislation on his desk by August is facing some serious obstacles - if Sunday’s discussion by a bipartisan group of senators is any indication of what the wider debate in the Senate will be like.
Just minutes after Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary said the administration was open to a recent proposal from Rep. Charles Rangel to increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to fund part of the costs of health care reform, fellow Democrat Sen. Kent Conrad said the proposal was basically a non-starter.
“Everything does have to be on the table,” Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, “you can’t negotiate properly without that rule in place. But, I don’t think the House proposal as I’ve heard it will be what’s part of the final package.”
That said, Conrad added that the final bill may include some request for wealthier Americans “to pay a bit more.”
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander called Rangel’s proposal “a bad idea.”
Instead, Alexander said health care reform proposals should focus on not adding to the national debt while making it possible for every American to purchase their own health care insurance. Alexander suggested that one way to accomplish these twin goals is to consider eliminating tax deductions granted on so-called “Cadillac” employer-provider health insurance plans.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan disagreed with Lamar Alexander’s approach. “Realistically, the one thing that is off the table is taxing employee benefits,” the Democrat told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire suggested that the current terms of the entire health care reform debate might be wrong-headed.
“Why don’t we approach this horse from the other end?,” Gregg said, “I think we’re approaching it from the wrong end when you start increasing spending like that and increasing the debt of this country - which is already excessive.”
“The bottom line is it’s got to be paid for,” Sebelius said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “We all have a shared responsibility, that we all need to play a role,” the Obama Cabinet member added.
Asked about a new proposal from Democrat Rep. Charlie Rangel, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, that would increase taxes on the wealthiest Americans in order to help finance health care reform, Sebelius replied that “I think everything is on the table and discussions are under way.”
Asked whether the administration would reject any reform proposals that included taxing employer-provided health care benefits, Sebelius was equally equivocally.
There are “no lines in the sand at this point,” she said.
The Obama aide also gave an update on the administration’s preparations to fight the H1N1, or “swine flu,” in the fall when the regular flu season begins.
The HHS Secretary said that if testing of the vaccine goes well, a vaccine should be ready by mid-October.