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Unity replaces conflict as Congress gets behind president


© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 13, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Congress declared a national day of mourning Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans stood unified and, they said, uncowed in the face of Tuesday's terrorist attacks.

"The America in which we woke today is far different from the one in which we woke yesterday," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said. "Even in the face of such cowardly and heinous acts, the doors of democracy will not close."

Under half-staff flags lying limp in the still air, the U.S. Capitol was open for business, though not business as usual. Tourists were barred, and reporters and congressional staffers faced redoubled scrutiny of identification badges. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who is second in line to the presidency, was accompanied by a beefed-up security detail.

House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt said he and Hastert "have been in almost continuous meetings together." And at a White House meeting Wednesday, the Missouri Democrat said he told President Bush "we were with him."

The attacks caused the parties to abandon their usual acrimonious relations and make a point of supporting Bush, whose election was decided less than a year ago by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision denounced by Democrats.

Bush's position in the Florida recount case in December was argued by Washington lawyer Theodore Olson, whose wife, television commentator Barbara Olson, was aboard the hijacked American Airlines plane that hit the Pentagon.

The attacks upended the debate in Congress over how to handle a vanishing federal budget surplus.

Before Tuesday, Democrats were blaming Bush's recent $1.35-trillion 10-year tax cut for the dwindling non-Social Security surplus. They were pressing Republicans to pledge not to spend $153-billion in Social Security payroll tax receipts on general government operations.

No more.

"Certainly a number of people, including the president, said the two exceptions (to preserving the surplus) were recession and war," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "As much as we both think that balancing the budget is important, there are times when other priorities are higher."

Indeed, Congress will meet today to consider a $20-billion supplemental appropriations bill to pay for a cleanup of the attack sites, help victims and their families and pay for military and intelligence operations.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, the Largo Republican who leads the House Appropriations Committee, said he was making arrangements to rush the bill to the House floor this afternoon.

"What we're trying to do here is to make sure Congress and the president are speaking with one solid voice -- that any type of terrorism is not acceptable to us," Young said.

Late Wednesday night, lawmakers met with Bush at the White House to discuss legislation to authorize the use of force under the War Powers Act. It was not clear how quickly it would be brought to the floor, but Democrats and Republicans alike expressed their support.

With a conflict involving the Arab world apparently looming, there also is likely to be more support for domestic oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, congressional aides predicted.

Also Wednesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe Allbaugh and other Bush administration officials delivered briefings to House and Senate members.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., called for a central office in the White House that would coordinate U.S. intelligence activities.

-- Staff writers John Balz and Bill Adair contributed to this report

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