Senate Democrats moved Tuesday to cut off funding for Vice President Dick Cheney’s office in a continuing battle over whether he must comply with national security disclosure rules.
A Senate appropriations panel chaired by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., refused to fund $4.8 million in the vice president’s budget until Cheney’s office complies with parts of an executive order governing its handling of classified information.
At issue is a requirement that executive branch offices provide data on how much material they classify and declassify. That information is to be provided to the Information Security Oversight Office at The National Archives.
Cheney’s office, with backing from the White House, argues that the offices of the president and vice president are exempt from the order because they are not executive branch “agencies.”
The funding cut came as the appropriations panel approved 5-4 along party lines a measure funding White House operations, the Treasury Department and many smaller agencies.
Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Cheney’s office was flouting requirements that it comply with the reporting requirements on classified information.
“Neither Mr. Cheney or his staff is above the law or the Constitution,” Durbin said. “For the vice president to believe that he has no responsibility to meet this requirement of the law is a dereliction of duty.”
The tempest originally attracted widespread media attention after Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., charged that Cheney’s office’s had originally argued to the Archives that it did not have to comply with the order because it was not “an entity within the executive branch.”
The vice president is also the president of the Senate, able to vote to break ties and preside over the chamber, though he is not eligible to sponsor legislation or participate in debates.
Cheney’s office, Waxman said, also blocked the archives from doing an onsite inspection of his office to make sure classified information was being properly protected.
Republicans on the Senate panel said Durbin was going overboard in using Congress’ power of the purse to try to force Cheney to conform with the order.
Such a step, said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., would set a terrible precedent in relations between the executive and legislative branches of government, which have historically let each other set their own budgets.
“This is going to further erode any sort of working relationship back and forth,” Brownback said. “This is a patently bad idea.”
The House last month narrowly rejected a comparable attempt by Democrats to cut off funding for Cheney’s office.
On Tuesday, two panel Democrats — moderates Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska — registered discomfort with Durbin’s move, though they backed him when Republicans forced a vote.
Brownback said the executive order does not apply to Cheney’s office because it is not an agency. But Durbin insisted that Cheney’s office is explicitly covered because the order applies to “any other entity within the executive branch that comes into the possession of classified information.”