House and Senate lawmakers say they have overcome one of two remaining obstacles to approval of legislation to reorganize the U.S. intelligence system, and implement other measures to strengthen defenses against terrorism. But negotiators were still working on one major outstanding issue, even as President Bush and families of people killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks issued more urgent appeals for action.
The announcement came in a news conference by the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services committee, and his counterpart in the Senate.
Congressman Duncan Hunter had been one of two key House Republicans blocking a final vote on compromise legislation in November: "We have agreed that we will support this conference report, because it has now met the standard that we were most interested in, which is protecting our troops in the battlefield," he said.
Congressman Hunter's objections, echoed by some other Republicans, had centered on concern that language agreed to in November, involving budget authority of a new national intelligence director, could interrupt a chain of command making it possible for intelligence, particularly from satellites, to flow to U.S. troops in the field.
A last minute clarification crafted by the co-sponsors of a bipartisan Senate intelligence bill, Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democrat Joseph Lieberman, satisfied Mr. Hunter's concerns.
Senator John Warner, who also took part in clarifying the language of the bill, said "the clarification, and I underline, the clarification, of this language [was made] so there could be no doubt, no challenge in the court, or otherwise, as to the execution of the chains of command."
In comments earlier at the White House, President Bush gave Congress an additional push, urging lawmakers to get past their differences and send a final bill to his desk.
"It is a good piece of legislation. It is a necessary piece of legislation. It's a piece of legislation that is important for the security of our country," said Mr. Bush.
The bill would implement most if not all of the 41 recommendations of the September 11th Commission, creating a national intelligence director, and a counter-terrorism center, aimed at streamlining the gathering, sharing and analysis of intelligence.
But while the dispute over how budget authority and chain of command is now resolved, another remains. It involves immigration issues, specifically the question of whether to give driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner favors license restrictions and wants other tough steps on asylum. He calls the legislation incomplete.
Congressman Hunter cautions the intelligence bill is not yet a done deal, and declined to say whether he would urge House Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert to schedule the bill for a vote even if problems regarding immigration are not resolved.
Earlier Monday, family members of people killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks, such as Carrie LeMack, and others appeared on Capitol Hill urging Congress, and President Bush, not to allow the legislation to die.
"President Bush can demonstrate his leadership, and truly demonstrate who is running this country," she said. "It is not a few obstructionists in the House. No, it is the President of the United States, someone who understands the extreme peril presented by the status quo."
Tim Roemer, a former congressman and member of the September 11th Commission added that "we have a 57-year-old system that is the status quo that allowed 3,000 people to die on our homeland. We need to change it. If Congress and the White House don't change it they have preserved the status quo and more body bags may have to happen before we get changes in the future."
If the House and Senate succeed in passing the legislation this week, lawmakers will have handed President Bush a welcome victory before he takes the oath of office in January for his second term as president.
But it will not have been without considerable anxiety, as the White House appeared to be frustrated by opposition from the two House lawmakers in the president's own party, as well as some Pentagon and defense officials, that threatened to derail the legislation.