WASHINGTON – Congress is unlikely to approve a bill giving President Bush's warrantless wiretapping program legal status and new restrictions before the November midterm elections, dealing a significant blow to one of the White House's top wartime priorities.
House and Senate versions of the legislation differ too much to bridge the gap by week's end, when Congress recesses until after the Nov. 7 elections, according to two GOP leadership aides who demanded anonymity because the decision had not yet been announced.
House Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Tuesday that his chamber would bring up a bill by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M. Asked whether that version could be reconciled with the Senate's White House-approved bill, Boehner replied:
"We'd like to, but I think that might be a stretch."
The Senate bill, struck by an agreement between Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter and the White House, is being reviewed by the Intelligence Committee and unlikely to receive a floor vote this week, the aides said.
Wilson's bill would impose more restrictions than the Senate bill on a president who seeks to wiretap terror suspects making calls or e-mails from the U.S. to other countries.
More likely to win passage by the end of the week is Bush's other legislative priority: a bill agreed upon by the White House, the House and Senate governing how terror suspects are to be detained and questioned.
Punting the surveillance bill would leave Congress only a "lame duck" session after the elections to consider it — along with 10 appropriations bills setting the budget for next year.