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Republicans, Democrats Try for Intelligence Bill Compromise

I.S. lawmakers are engaged in intense negotiations aimed at a possible last minute compromise on final legislation to reform the U.S. intelligence system, before the end of the 108th Congress. The White House says President Bush is weighing in on the issue.

Weeks of negotiations aimed at reconciling differences in House and Senate passed bills have brought some progress, but no final agreement, on what could still be one of the top achievements of the 108th Congress.

Discussions have produced compromises on a number of questions dealing with law enforcement, immigration and others, but not a breakthrough on the thorniest subject, the extent of budgetary and other powers of a new national intelligence director.

House Republicans say they want the intelligence bill finished before Congress concludes its current lame duck post-election session, probably no later than next week.

"We have been negotiating constantly since September," he said. "We're getting close to an agreement [and] we would hope that we would move it (approve) this week, that is our intent," said Republican House speaker Dennis Hastert.

However, Republicans have been standing firm for the most part on the budget authority issue.

President Bush will use a Wednesday meeting at the White House with lawmakers of both parties to urge them toward a final compromise.

"We are part of the discussions that are ongoing between congressional leaders in both the Senate and the House, to get the intelligence reform moving forward," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "It is a high priority for the president that we get this done as soon as possible."

But families of people killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks are not persuaded the president is doing all he can, and are upset with lawmakers unable to achieve compromise.

"He must personally intervene to break the stalemate between the five House Republican conferees, acting at the behest of the Pentagon and entrenched bureaucratic interests, and move them toward agreement with the other 16 conferees who back the legislation that is true to the September 11 Commission recommendations," said Carol Ashley, who lost her daughter in the attacks.

Members of the September 11 commission that investigated failures in the U.S. intelligence system are also exerting pressure.

Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste urges President Bush to use his political clout (power) to move House Republicans closer to compromise on outstanding issues. "It is now time for him to expend the capital necessary to have those in his party who are opposing, in conference, the enactment of the Senate bill to change their viewpoint," he noted.

"We are running out of time," added Tim Roemer, another commission member. "Time now is our enemy in addition to al-Qaida being our enemy poised to attack."

Congressman Christopher Shays urges President Bush to put more pressure on House Republicans. "The White House can't give this Republican Congress a pass," he said.

Failure to act on intelligence reform would be not only a public embarrassment for Congress and a slap in the face of the September 11 Commission, but would also mean lawmakers would have to start all over again when the 109th Congress begins in January.