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Intel Conferees Keep Working, With Goal of Lame-Duck Vote

While lamenting the fact that they could not reach agreement before Election Day, House and Senate negotiators said they are continuing to work toward an agreement on a bill to implement the 9/11 commission’s recommendations that could be voted on during the upcoming lame-duck session.

In a conference call with reporters earlier today, House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member Jane Harman (D-Calif.), Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins (R-Maine) and ranking member Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) agreed that there are still “significant gaps,” as Hoekstra said, preventing them from reaching a deal.

All four of the key conferees left Washington late Wednesday or early Thursday so they would be in their home states before Nov. 2.

However, Hoekstra said a new House Republican draft would be presented to staffers for Senate conferees today. The draft will omit two provisions included in the original House-passed bill: One would permit the deportation of illegal aliens without first holding a judicial hearing, the other would authorize the death penalty for those who are convicted of developing or possessing weapons of mass destruction to be used against Americans, Hoekstra said.

The draft will also lift the caps on how many immigrants can be granted asylum in the United States, he added.

Hoekstra said he hoped to have a response from the Senate by early next week, although Collins and Lieberman did not make any promises.

But Democrats said they were perplexed by what they heard of Hoekstra’s latest draft. The draft House Republicans gave to the Senate last week already omitted the controversial deportation language, said one Democratic aide.

Additionally, “no one was arguing” about the death penalty provision, nor had they asked for the asylum caps to be lifted as part of the bill, said the Democratic aide.

“From the conference call, it appears that they’re not moving very much,” said the Democratic aide.

Collins reiterated that the “thorniest issue” continues to be how much power to give the national intelligence director, a position that would be created by the bill.

Hoekstra was cagey when asked about whether the latest House draft would include significant changes from the chamber’s previous position, vaguely indicating that some modest changes could be expected.

Senate conferees have pushed to give the NID significant budgetary control over Defense-related intelligence agencies, while House conferees have resisted making the Defense secretary cede much of the control he already has over those agencies.

Meanwhile, conferees are also at an impasse on how to create a National Counterterrorism Center and whether to establish, as the 9/11 commission recommended, a civil liberties board to monitor the intelligence-gathering community, said Collins.

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