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FISA Deal Close; Votes Could Be This Week

Congressional leadership aides are meeting today to finalize language on contentious electronic spying provisions that expire Aug. 3.

The goal is to bring a compromise package to the Senate floor as early as Wednesday and then to the House floor on Thursday.

Aides to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are leading the bipartisan, bicameral meetings today. The goal: Hash out the remaining sticking points on legislation to update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Hoyer and Blunt agree “that there needs to be an agreement” sooner rather than later, according to a House GOP source. “They’re the two that are saying, ‘Let’s make this happen.’”

There were 10 outstanding issues with the bill last week, according to the source, and now there are seven.

Even though the bill originally stalled over an immunity provision, staffers of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) “kept coming back to the table with more stuff,” the GOP source said.

Another House source familiar with negotiations on the bill said a vote may not happen this week because of divisions among Democrats over which chamber should take up the bill first.

Procedurally, because the House was the last chamber to pass the bill, the Senate is likely to take action first.

Lawmakers have been tied up for months over FISA, namely on the issue of whether to grant retroactive legal immunity to telecommunications companies that aided the Bush administration in warrantless wiretapping after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

On that issue, lawmakers appear to have reached a deal to allow federal courts to decide whether telecommunications companies should be protected.

Existing FISA authority expires on Aug. 3, so, particularly in an election year, Democratic lawmakers are under the gun to extend surveillance authority before that happens.

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