Democrats Lose Battle to Force Cheney to Comply with Executive Order

By a vote of 15-14, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted on July 12, to strip language from the Financial Services and General Government fiscal year (FY) 2008 appropriations bill that would have withheld funding for the Office of the Vice President (OVP) until it complied with Executive Order (EO) 12958, as amended.

The EO mandates that executive branch departments, agencies, commissions, and “any other entity within the executive branch,” report to the Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) at the National Archives on their procedures for handling and safeguarding classified materials.

Controversy arose last month when it was revealed by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee that Vice President Cheney had refused to comply with the executive order reporting requirements and denied ISOO access to his office to conduct a routine inspection. The OVP initially claimed that it was not an executive branch entity, and therefore not subject to the executive order, since the Vice President also had legislative responsibilities as the President of the Senate.

When the Senate Financial Services and General Government Appropriations’ Subcommittee marked up its bill on July 10, it included language that withheld funding for the activities of the Vice President until the OVP complied with the reporting requirements under Executive Order 12958, as amended.

After the subcommittee markup, its Chairman Richard Durbin (D-IL) received a letter from White House General Counsel Fred Fielding stating the position that the president had never intended that the OVP be covered when he re-issued the executive order in 2003.

At the full Committee markup, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) introduced an amendment to strike the language compelling the Vice President to comply with the executive order. Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska broke ranks with his party and supported the Brownback amendment, thus giving the Republicans the one vote margin they needed to adopt the amendment. As adopted, the Brownback amendment included language suggested by Nelson expressing the “sense of the Senate” that the Administration should amend the executive order to specifically state that the Vice President is exempt from the classification reporting requirements.

During House consideration of the Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill (H.R. 2829) last month, a similar amendment eliminating funding for the Office of the Vice President until he complied with the executive order failed by a 209-217 vote.

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