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US Lawmakers Prepare to Debate, Pass Intelligence Reform Measure

The U.S. Congress is moving to debate and pass wide-ranging legislation to reorganize the nation's intelligence system. Votes in the House and Senate, expected Tuesday and Wednesday, will send the bill on to President Bush who will sign it into law.

After weeks of difficult bargaining, and key last minute compromises, Republicans and Democrats put aside partisan differences to praise each other for bringing the bill to the brink of approval.

House Republicans have scheduled the legislation for a vote in that chamber. The Senate is also ready to debate and give its approval, likely by Wednesday.

Senator John Rockefeller, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, describes the legislation as being more than just moving boxes around in the U.S. intelligence community. "This is a profoundly important bill (and) one of the reasons for it is it will put an intense scrutiny from all of you (in the media), from all Americans, from all of us in the Congress, on what in fact happens as this new system evolves," he said.

There has also been widespread praise, from Democrats as well as Republicans, for President Bush's role in helping lawmakers overcome final disagreements that had blocked the bill from passage.

California Democrat Jane Harman says Mr. Bush put to rest any doubts he did not fully support intelligence reform, and helped bring Democrats and Republicans together. "It is a big deal to bring this Congress together, this Congress that has sadly been so polarized and I would say so dysfunctional, and this victory is a huge victory for bipartisanship," he said.

Republican House lawmakers are calling the legislation a victory for the security of Americans in the war on terrorism.

Congressman David Dreier echoed remarks that its success is also a significant victory for President Bush: "What the president has learned from this is that, working closely with the Congress, which is something that he has done and will obviously continue to do, in the next four years is the way to bring about positive public policy," he said.

Based on 41 recommendations of the independent September 11th Commission that investigated the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the legislation will establish a new national intelligence director, and a counter-terrorism center.

To the disappointment of some lawmakers, it will not deal as strongly as they wanted with immigration-related issues.

Although provisions such as denying driver's licenses to illegal immigrants will not be included in the bill, House Republican leaders say they are determined to pass legislation on these issues in the new 109th Congress which begins in January.