Congress nears passage of antiterrorism aid
© St. Petersburg Times,
WASHINGTON -- White House officials and congressional leaders struggled Thursday with final details of a $40-billion package to combat terrorism and recover from attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The figure was double what President Bush requested.
Lawmakers also seemed to be nearing agreement on a separate measure that would back the use of "necessary and appropriate force" by Bush against the people responsible for Tuesday's attacks. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., said the House could consider that bill as early as today.
Hastert said the two sides agreed to drop earlier language opposed by some lawmakers that would also have approved use of force by Bush to "deter and pre-empt any related future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States." Opponents said that would have gone too far in eliminating Congress' role in future incidents.
Leaders were hoping to push the spending measure through the House as early as today, with the Senate to follow. A Saturday session of Congress was looking increasingly likely.
An 11th-hour disagreement, with White House officials seeking fewer congressional restraints on spending much of the money, dashed leaders' hopes of completing the spending measure Thursday. The delay also jeopardized Bush's chances of being able to tout a completed aid package when he visits New York today.
Even so, approval of such a vast sum just days after Tuesday's calamitous events would be lightning speed for a Congress that usually takes weeks or months to approve money for anything.
"We are shoulder to shoulder. We are in complete agreement that we will act together as one," said House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri.
Earlier, Hastert had said Bush agreed to sign the $40-billion measure after meeting at the White House with New York lawmakers.
"There is a unanimous understanding that whatever we do this week is a very minimal down payment to what will be required and what we will do in the days and weeks ahead," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
The spending agreement was worked out late in the afternoon, minutes before the Capitol was evacuated for about a half hour after bomb-sniffing dogs detected a suspicious odor in a Senate office.
Lawmakers from New York -- where the brunt of the casualties and damage occurred when the World Trade Center was obliterated -- sought a commitment Thursday from Bush for $20-billion to aid the state's recovery.
Instead, the bill's final version would require that at least half the $40-billion aid victims and their families, and pay for recovery efforts. That money would most likely be spent in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where Tuesday's fourth hijacked airliner crashed.
In a day marked by several bipartisan meetings -- unusual in themselves -- Democratic and Republican leaders traveled together across the Potomac River to view rescue and recovery efforts at the Pentagon.
The $40-billion would go to attack victims; costs by the federal and local governments for the rescue, cleanup and rebuilding efforts; and improved security for transportation systems.
It could also be used "to counter, investigate or prosecute domestic or international terrorism" and for "supporting national security" -- which could give Bush wide leeway to use funds to strike back at terrorists and their supporters.
Both parties also seemed eager to approve separate legislation endorsing a presidential use of force against those responsible for the attacks.
"It is always wiser to demonstrate national unity" by showing Congress supports such action, said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, D-Del.
Participants said completion of that bill could slip to next week, complicated by the age-old jealousy between the two branches of government over the power to wage war.
In 1964, Congress approved the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing President Lyndon B. Johnson "to take all necessary measures" to protect U.S. forces and prevent aggression. Johnson and subsequent presidents used that resolution to wage the Vietnam War, to the subsequent regret of many lawmakers.
The Senate also agreed late Thursday to broaden the nation's wiretapping laws, making crimes involving terrorism a reason for tapping into telephones and computers for the first time.
That provision was added by voice to a bill providing $42-billion for the Commerce, Justice and State departments for next year. The bill was approved 97-0.
The measure also:
Orders the CIA to rescind its ban on recruiting terrorist informants who have access to intelligence on terrorist plans and capabilities.
Allows U.S. attorneys to approve wiretaps.
Expands wiretap authority to cover computer communications.
Allows officials to trace computer communications over state lines with a single warrant in their efforts to track down computer hackers.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times wire desk
From the AP