Despite a flurry of last-minute offers between the House and Senate, chances of Congress enacting the Sept. 11 commission’s terror-fighting recommendations before Election Day are all but gone.
Congressional negotiators and their staffs worked through the weekend toward an agreement. House and Senate members remained deadlocked over how much authority over the intelligence budget the person named national intelligence director should have and whether immigration and law enforcement should be considered with intelligence reorganization.
Without a miraculous consensus from lawmakers, little chance remains that Congress will vote before next Tuesday, Election Day.
“After three years of effort, we are on the brink of failure,” said a statement from the 9/11 Family Steering Committee, a group of victims’ families who have been pushing for Congress to get the legislation finished.
The independent commission that studied the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and recommended wholesale changes in the nation’s intelligence operations made a last ditch plea on Monday. It insisted that the work could still be done before the elections if negotiators would concentrate their efforts.
“It would be a tragedy for the country if they were not able, at this point, to reach an agreement when they are actually so close,” said the commission chairman, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.
Congressional aides say it would take three days from the point negotiators agree to get the House and Senate back to the Capitol. And with control of the House, Senate and presidency up for grabs on Election Day, it is almost unthinkable that Congress would return with the elections so close, Senate historian Richard Baker said.
Lawmakers still hope to reach an agreement for Congress to consider, perhaps during its postelection sessions starting Nov. 16.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and House Intelligence chairman Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., met with GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the main Senate negotiators, Monday morning in Bangor, Maine.
“Many significant issues remain to be resolved, but we will continue working toward an agreement,” Collins said.
Advocates, lawmakers and commissioners all have said repeatedly that the legislation’s best chances for passage would be before the elections. Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton refused to speculate Monday what might happen now.
“We just want it done as soon as possible,” he said.
Collins said she and the other lead negotiators — Hoekstra, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. — plan more meetings this week looking for a resolution.
No one in Congress plans to declare publicly that negotiations failed for fear it could be used against them in the elections. Democrats and Republicans already are blaming each other.
They also accuse President Bush of doing too little to force agreement.