The chairman of the commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States says President Bush must pressure Congress to pass intelligence reform legislation. Thomas Kean stresses these reforms are essential to the United States' national security.
The legislation is stalled on Capitol Hill because of the objections of a few influential members of the House of Representatives.
Thomas Kean was once a member of the House, and knows only too well that the legislative process is often complicated and lengthy. But he says time is crucial, and the nation cannot wait.
"This bill will pass. The question is whether it will pass now, or after a second attack," he said.
Speaking on the NBC television program, Meet the Press, the Republican chairman of the September 11 commission called on President Bush to personally push for passage of the bill. He said he is convinced that the president's vow of support for the measure is genuine.
"He is sincere," said Mr. Kean. "He is sincere on almost every subject. You can disagree with the president, and you can say he is wrong on something. But when he says he is for something, he has been for it, he has fought for it and he has gotten it passed."
The top Democrat on the commission puts the odds of passage at 60-40. Co-chairman Lee Hamilton told Meet the Press, lawmakers must understand that delay is dangerous.
"Al-Qaida will not stop. They are going to continue to be active. Let's get this bill through," urged Mr. Hamilton. "It makes a huge number of very beneficial changes in counter-terrorism policy. Let's refine it in the future, as you do with any major piece of legislation."
A compromise version of the bill recently passed the Senate by an overwhelming margin. But House Speaker Dennis Hastert refused to bring the measure up for a final vote because of objections from the powerful Republican chairmen of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.
Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner wants stronger provisions on illegal immigration. Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter has concerns about the bill's provision for a new national intelligence director with broad powers to oversee numerous intelligence-related agencies, including those that run satellites used by the military. During an appearance on the Fox News Sunday program, Congressman Hunter said it is a matter of life and death for American troops.
"When you need a satellite going over your position, you have to be able to command that satellite," he explained. "And the Senate is not willing to maintain what we call the chain-of-command-control between the war fighters and the combat support agencies that run those satellites."
But negotiators who worked on the bill maintain these concerns are addressed in the legislation. Senator Joseph Lieberman, a senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was interviewed on ABC's, This Week.
"These two gentlemen are entitled to their opinions," said Senator Lieberman. "But they are not entitled to stop this critically important national security measure, which President Bush and a majority of members of both houses want."
Congress will return to Washington soon in a post-election session to consider legislation to fund the federal government. If lawmakers fail to break the stalemate on the intelligence bill, the newly elected Congress that takes office in January will begin the process of crafting reform legislation all over again.