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Congress approves anti-terror package; Senate endorses use of force against terrorists

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times Online,
September 14, 2001

WASHINGTON -- A unanimous Congress gave rapid-fire approval Friday to a $40 billion down payment for recovery from terror attacks and retaliation against the people and governments responsible.

The Senate also voted 98-0 to support the exercise of "all necessary and appropriate force" by President Bush against the terrorists, their sponsors and their protectors.

House approval was expected Friday or Saturday as lawmakers used exceptional speed and solidarity to signal the country's resolve to rebuild and retaliate.

"These are different times," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "And we have got to act decisively. The American people expect it of us, and they will accept nothing less."

The sheer size of the $40 billion emergency bill underlined the magnitude of Tuesday's devastation in New York and at the Pentagon and the looming costs of cleaning up, helping victims or their survivors, reinforcing domestic security and striking back. The final package was twice Bush's request and two-thirds what it cost to wage the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but it was seen by most as just the beginning.

"This body will provide whatever resources are needed to respond to this challenge, not just today, not just tomorrow, but for as long as it takes," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.

Among the possible multibillion-dollar expenses ahead were an effort some lawmakers were discussing to bail out the airline and insurance industries, both of which face potentially staggering losses from Tuesday's mayhem. The airline measure alone could cost $2.5 billion, two congressional aides said.

For all this, the money will come from projected budget surpluses, most of it probably from Social Security's excess. Gone was talk of the sanctity of that program's surpluses that had dominated Capitol politics until Tuesday, underlining the grave mood the terrorist strike has induced.

The spending measure was approved 96-0 by the Senate and 422-0 by the House, which extended its roll call so members could attend a memorial service at National Cathedral. It was possible Bush would sign it Friday after returning from his visit to the rubble that was once the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center.

Despite the desire to speak with one voice, the two parties -- and the two branches of government -- bickered until reaching the final versions of both bills.

Bush will be able to spend half the $40 billion package with virtually no congressional restrictions. At least half the money must be used for recovery and assistance efforts, which lawmakers say means it will go mostly to New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, site of the crash of the fourth hijacked plane.

"This was a bipartisan effort that stretched from one end of the country to the other, and it's going to help New York tremendously," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

The resolution authorizing the use of military force reflected the age-old tensions between presidents and Congresses over their shared power to wage war. Bush had requested it to demonstrate the public support that abounds for hitting back.

An initial administration proposal had requested lawmakers' blessing to respond to Tuesday's attacks and any future incidents. The final version restricted the support to action against "nations, organizations or persons" who "planned, authorized, committed or aided" Tuesday's assaults or who harbored the perpetrators.

The measure also reaffirms the War Powers Act's requirement that Congress must give its approval if Bush wants to escalate the U.S. action to a declaration of war.

Senate debate over the force resolution lasted just a few moments, in contrast to the days it took a divided chamber to approve a similar Gulf War measure a decade ago.

"It's because Americans were not united over the Persian Gulf, and they are united on this issue," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Lawmakers said even with Friday's votes, Congress' role in the emerging conflict was just starting.

Several said they expect hearings on how Tuesday's events could have happened; a look at ways to prevent future attacks on the nation's financial system, computers and other potential terrorist targets; an effort to let Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld shift more money to anti-terrorism activities from other Pentagon accounts; and a likely increase in the $343 billion defense bill the Senate has been writing.

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