Sen. John McCain is incensed about a report that says the omnibus spending bill essentially blocks the transfer of CIA drone operations to the Pentagon.
The Arizona Republican, who is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, says he was not advised of the inclusion of any such provision in the classified annex that accompanies the Defense Department portion of the $1.1 trillion catch-all discretionary spending bill. The Washington Post wrote about the provisions on Wednesday night, after the House had already easily passed the legislation.
"It's one of the most outrageous violations of ... the authority of the authorizing committees. This is clearly an issue for the Armed Services Committee and the Intelligence Committee, and I've talked to members of the Appropriations Committee that didn't even know this was in," McCain said. "You can't do business like this.
"This is a major aspect of this nation's security — the use of drones. This is not a small item. This isn't ... the price of milk," McCain continued. "It has everything to do with our national security, and to ... act in that way, without a hearing, without notification.
"Sen. Levin didn't know about this — of course he didn't," McCain said. "Sen. Inhofe didn't know about it."
Michigan Democrat Carl Levin and Oklahoma Republican James M. Inhofe are the chairman and ranking member, respectively, on the Armed Services Committee, respectively. Appropriators and authorizers frequently spar over the use of funding limitations as policy provisions in spending bills, so on one level a potential turf war is not unusual.
"There's a classified section but you know, but which one of us, you know, goes down and sees a classified section," McCain said. "It's crazy."
Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a senior appropriator, said that he does take the step of reviewing the classified annex.
"I don't know whether all members do," Alexander said. "All members can, and I do."
The annex itself is a routine part of defense appropriations, which includes secretive funding for intelligence programs. Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., also serves as chairman of the subcommittee that governs defense spending.
Durbin said that all material is not available to all members.
"When you're dealing with classified information, by definition there is some information here that if it is made public could endanger security of the United States," Durbin said. "I've served on the Intelligence Committee, and I now have a new responsibility funding the intelligence agencies, and there are just certain areas that we can't discuss publicly for fear that it might endanger our country.
"I'm going to try and talk to John and tell him what I can tell him, and I don't know if it will allay his fears," Durbin said.
"I'm always glad to talk to him. He's a good friend, but this is in law now," McCain said, calling the move "a major policy decision, which not only violates the authority of the appropriators and the authorizers, but places restrictions on the actions of the president of the United States."