Congress Pursues Deal on Phone Data Collection in Rare Talks During Recess

Congress Pursues Deal on Phone Data Collection in Rare Talks During Recess
Senior lawmakers are scrambling this week in rare recess negotiations to agree on a face-saving change to legislation that would rein in the National Security Agency’s dragnet of phone records, with time running out on some of the government’s domestic surveillance authority.

Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said a series of phone calls and staff meetings over the weeklong Memorial Day break should be enough to reach agreement on changes to the USA Freedom Act. Three senators need to be won over for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act, which has already been approved by the House and would change the post-Sept. 11 Patriot Act’s provision that the N.S.A. has used to sweep up phone records in bulk.

“That is the goal: Work it out over the break,” Mr. Nunes said.

If negotiators accept minor changes to the House bill, it will mark a significant retreat for Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The two men have said phone companies, which would collect the data instead of the N.S.A. under the USA Freedom Act, are not equipped to handle the task.

Even face-saving changes will be difficult. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and one of the authors of the House bill, said the demands of Senate Republicans were “a lot of nonsense.” Democrats and many libertarian-minded Republicans would rather allow any eavesdropping authority to lapse than to give in.
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