WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday he will decide in the next two days whether there is a realistic chance Congress can get the Sept. 11 intelligence reorganization bill completed before Election Day.
When asked by reporters whether there would be a vote before the Nov. 2 election on a compromise House-Senate bill reorganizing the intelligence community as recommended by the Sept. 11 commission (search), Frist replied, "I haven't decided. I'll make a decision in the next 48 hours."
But the Tennessee Republican later said he still planned to ask negotiators to begin work immediately to "see if we can work through the differences and bring people back before the election."
Frist on Monday appointed GOP Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, George Voinovich of Ohio, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, John Sununu of New Hampshire, Pat Roberts of Kansas, Mike DeWine of Ohio and Trent Lott of Mississippi to serve as the Senate GOP negotiators.
Democrats chose Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Carl Levin of Michigan, Richard Durbin of Illinois, John Rockefeller of West Virginia, Bob Graham of Florida and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey.
The House has not announced its negotiators yet.
The GOP-controlled House and Senate passed differing bills creating a national intelligence director (search) and a national counterterrorism center to address the Sept. 11 commission's central complaint that the nation's intelligence agencies do not work together properly.
They now must negotiate a final bill and bring the full Congress back to Washington in the next two weeks if they hope to get something to President Bush before the election. Many House and Senate members already are gone home to campaign for those same elections with control of both chambers hanging in the balance this year.
Both chambers say they want to create a national intelligence director before the election, but the House decided to also include additional government anti-terrorism powers, including some additional barriers against illegal immigration, inside its legislation that the Senate had rejected to consider as part of its bill.
House leaders say they will insist on their provisions because they think their bill is better.
Frist and Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota agreed that they would stand together as well for the Senate bill.
Daschle said House and Senate Republicans have stood together during negotiating committee meetings.
"So there is considerable apprehension on our side what will happen in this conference if the House again demands that its positions be accepted," Daschle said.
But Frist said he appointed Governmental Affairs chairwoman Susan Collins (search), R-Maine, as the Senate's conference leader. Collins, along with Sen. Joseph Lieberman (search), D-Conn., pushed bipartisan legislation through the Senate that was endorsed by the 9/11 commission.
"She has agreed that she will not pursue a conclusion to the conference, nor sign any conference report, that undermines the bipartisan working relationship that has existed in the Senate," Frist said. "If changes are made to the Senate bill, they will be the result of the mutual, good-faith effort to reach agreement among Senate conferees."