The Bush administration wants "an effective bill that both Houses can pass and the president can sign into law as soon as possible to meet the nation's security needs," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice and budget director Joshua Bolten said in a letter sent Tuesday to congressional leaders.
The letter came as congressional negotiators prepared for their first public meeting on Wednesday to negotiate a compromise on legislation based on the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission. While behind-the-scenes staff meetings have occurred, no resolutions have been reached on illegal immigration measures that the House wants and the Senate refused to consider.
Mr. Bush himself earlier called for lawmakers to hurry and finish their negotiations. "These reforms are necessary to stay ahead of the threats," the president said in a Monday campaign speech. "I urge Congress to act quickly so I can sign them into law."
The House bill would expand the number of aliens subject to quick deportation by increasing the amount of time they would have to be in the United States to be exempted from speedy deportation.
It also would force asylum seekers accused by their home countries of being involved in terrorist or guerrilla activities to prove that their race, religion, nationality or political opinion will be a "central reason" for their persecution if deported.
"The administration strongly opposes the overbroad expansion of expedited removal authorities, and has concerns about the provision addressing asylum; these sections should be modified or dropped altogether," the letter said.
The White House provided a copy of the letter to The Associated Press on Tuesday to ensure its side was publicly represented as the legislation becomes entangled in election-season politics.
"This is a blueprint and a path to a bill the president could sign to make our country safer and stronger," White House spokesman Trent Duffy said. The administration wants a bill that contains "the best of both bills," Duffy said.
For example, the White House said a national intelligence director should have "strong budget authority" and "a role in the appointment of key individuals in the intelligence community." The Senate bill includes both proposals, which match recommendations from the Sept. 11 commission.
However, White House officials said they also support the House's refusal to make public the total amount of money spent on intelligence, saying it would harm national security. They also support the House's anti-terrorism measures, including adding the death penalty as punishment for terrorist murders, mandatory detention for accused terrorists and increased penalties for helping or financing terrorists.
"These and other anti-terrorism tools would help keep America safer and help to address the 9/11 commission's recommendations," the letter said.
The Sept. 11 commission recommended the creation of a national intelligence director position to control almost all of the nation's 15 intelligence agencies, saying the agencies did not work together properly to stop the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington.
Commissioners also called for more safeguards at home, such as setting national standards for driver's licenses and other identification, improving "no-fly" and other terrorist watch lists and using more biometric identifiers to screen travelers at ports and borders.
The House and Senate passed differing bills addressing those concerns, and must negotiate a compromise to have any hope of getting anything to Mr. Bush before the elections. Time is running out, however.
Senate historian Richard Baker said Monday it would be highly unusual for the full Congress to return to Washington to approve a bill with the House, Senate and White House up for grabs in an election two weeks away.