FISA Bill Enters Delicate Final Phase

Negotiators are finalizing the details on a breakthrough on a long-stalled foreign intelligence bill, but there's still one major hurdle: getting buy in from the rank and file lawmakers in both chambers this week.

Senate and House aides from both parties said Monday that negotiators on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act bill have finalized a compromise that would allow federal courts to determine if a telecommunications company should receive immunity from lawsuits stemming from warrant less wiretaps. This compromise falls short of the blanket immunity the Bush administration wants for telecoms that participated in wiretapping, but offers more potential lawsuit protection than Democrats wanted to offer for the program.

Now, Senate and House negotiators from the Intelligence committees will have to take this compromise to their respective caucuses and sell the idea that this is a breakthrough worth embracing after months of political posturing over FISA. Aides familiar with discussions warn that nothing is a done deal, especially given the tough rhetoric from both sides in recent months about warrantless wiretapping by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Shana Marchio, a spokesman for Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said negotiators made critical progress over the weekend, but the deal needs to be approved by leaders in both chambers.

"A lot of progress was made on a terrorist surveillance bill that enables this critical program to go forward while protecting the privacy rights and civil liberties of Americans," Marchio said.
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