Intelligence talks continue

Later this afternoon, House Republicans will present another proposal to the Senate for reforming the intelligence community, but several congressional lawmakers expressed disappointment that an agreement couldn't be reached before Election Day.

"It is possible — it will be difficult — but it is possible that a bill could be completed," Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said today in a telephone conference call with reporters. He added that issues between the Senate and House versions have been complex and difficult.

For the past couple weeks, lawmakers have been racing to narrow the gap between the two bills. Both create a national intelligence director to oversee the intelligence community and a National Counterterrorism Center, which would promote information sharing. Both bills contain numerous provisions for improving security through the use of technology, including implementing a decentralized information-sharing network.

However, a main sticking point is the director's budget authority. The House version gives substantially less budgetary power to the director, allowing Defense Department officials to control the flow of money for their intelligence agencies.

"What my goal is to make sure that the [director] has true budget execution authority and if someone else is able to control flow of the money then the [director] does not have true budget execution authority," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said during the call. "But certainly there are a lot of ways to get to that goal. It has been the thorniest issue to resolve so far."

If a bill isn't signed into law during this session, she said she's pessimistic intelligence reform would be successful in the next.

Other sticking points between the bills include immigration provisions in the House version that have upset many privacy and civil liberties groups. Hoekstra said changes in the House proposal address some of those provisions as well as the flow of money.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said House Democrats haven't seen the House Republicans' version, lamenting the partisanship on this issue. She also said officials at the White House and the 9/11 Commission have sent letters in the past two weeks providing specific suggestions to narrow the gap. She said they can be used as benchmarks as lawmakers continue to discuss the bills during the lame duck session.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) said that if conferees do not reach an agreement by the end of the session, it would be a "shameful failure" for Congress because this is about national security.

"We are very accustomed to using a phrase in Congress: 'Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good,'" he said. "In this case the quest for the perfect may well be the enemy of the safety and security of the American people."

Harman and other lawmakers, however, expressed hope some compromise could be reached.

"If the [Boston] Red Sox can win, anything is possible in this year," she said referring to the World Series. "And they had to wait 86 years. We've only been waiting 55 years for intelligence reform.'

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