In a statement Friday, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., officially named House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. to chair the conference, allowing negotiations to move forward. House GOP aides said that a first meeting will likely be held Wednesday.
"[Hoekstra] will do an excellent job of bringing people together to get a legislative result that will make the country safer," Hastert said in the statement.
Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, is leading the Senate negotiating team, but her counterpart -- House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va. -- was not named to the conference.
A spokesman for Hastert added Friday that it remains "a very real possibility" that the House will reconvene before the election to approve a final bill if the conferees move quickly on a conference report. However, several House GOP aides maintained this week that it is unlikely an agreement can be reached in less than two weeks, which would push a final vote on the bill into the lame duck session that begins Nov. 16.
Among several key differences in the two bills is a Senate-passed provision to disclose the top-line budgetary authority for the national intelligence director. The House bill maintains the current law, under which the intelligence budget is classified.
"I don't think [the House] will budge on that," said one House GOP aide.
Senate Democratic aides indicated they have not yet met with their GOP counterparts to begin laying the groundwork for the conference, and bicameral staff discussions have not begun either.
The prospect that the legislation might have to wait until after the election did not sit well with a group of 9/11 families pressuring the White House and Congress to pass the Senate proposal.
"We are here; where are the elected officials?" Donald Goodrich, one of the family members, said Friday at a Capitol Hill news conference. Members of the 9/11 Family Steering Committee Friday also reiterated their unhappiness over Thursday's meeting with White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who they said downplayed the need to finish the bill before Election Day.