WASHINGTON - The Senate is expected to approve legislation within days to extend the life of the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, with commission members and Republican lawmakers vowing yesterday to press Speaker Dennis Hastert to drop his plans to block the measure in the House.
The 10-member commission has warned that without a two-month extension of the deadline for its final report, now set by law at May 27, the panel will not be able to complete its investigation, which focuses in part on intelligence and law-enforcement blunders in the weeks and months before the 2001 terrorist attacks.
After some initial reluctance to support an extension, the White House agreed this month to endorse the two-month delay requested by the panel, known formally as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
Republican Senate leaders support the extension as well, and Republican congressional aides said yesterday that the legislation would be approved in the Senate and sent to the House as early as this week, possibly attached to an otherwise uncontroversial bill to extend the authorization of federal highway programs.
The stumbling block is Hastert. The Illinois Republican has said through his spokesman that he will prevent a House vote on any bill to extend the panel's life, arguing that any extension would risk turning the commission's findings into a political issue in the midst of this summer's political campaigning.
"We want this report out as soon as possible," Hastert's spokesman, John Feehery, said yesterday. "The recommendations only really work if they come out quickly. And any delay will only make this become a political football."
Feehery said Hastert had spoken Monday with the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and made clear his opposition to any extension. Asked whether there was any chance that Hastert might change his mind, Feehery replied, "I don't think so."
Members of the commission and lawmakers who support the extension seemed convinced, however, that Hastert would change his mind, especially if he were placed under pressure by fellow Republicans and the groups of families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, who are seeking an even longer extension for the commission.
They say that attaching the measure to a popular federal highway bill could also force Hastert's hand, because he would have to derail the highway bill to kill the extension.