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Divisions hold up antiterror legislation

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times,
published October 5, 2001


WASHINGTON -- Bipartisanship foundered Thursday on Capitol Hill as divisions delayed agreement on antiterrorism laws and airport security.

The Senate and House are poised to pass separate antiterrorism bills next week with differences on key provisions that could complicate the prospects for a final agreement.

Meanwhile, partisan divides stalled an overhaul of airport security systems, a change that leaders in both parties hailed as a crucial antiterrorist measure.

The differences on the antiterrorism bills came into clear view Thursday after Senate negotiators disclosed details of an agreement they had reached the night before with the White House.

Both bills would dramatically expand law enforcement's surveillance powers, ratchet up penalties for terrorist crimes and allow for longer detention of noncitizens suspected of terrorist activity.

But the two chambers differ on the scope of some of these new powers and on a number of provisions designed to guard against the erosion of civil liberties.

The main sticking point is a provision in the House bill that would cause law enforcement's new surveillance authority to expire after two years. The clause was included to appease House members who fear the powers would be vulnerable to abuse.

The Senate, acceding to White House demands, did not include such a "sunset provision." Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that discrepancy could present a major obstacle.

"That would cause great difficulties in the House because the sunset provision was the principle compromise that got the agreement," Sensenbrenner said.

Divisions also continued over airport security, as lawmakers feuded over whether to make airport security screeners federal employees and whether to include aid to airline workers who have lost their jobs.

Republicans cast the dispute as a conflict between big government and small. Democrats, meanwhile, accused the GOP of ignoring lower-income workers while bailing out the airline industry.

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle, who had effusively praised his GOP colleagues for their bipartisan spirit in recent weeks, Thursday called the Republicans "obstructionist" and said delaying the package would threaten airport security and hurt displaced workers.

"God forbid we'd have some tragedy in the course of the next several days, and I don't think there'd be a person who would oppose airport or railroad safety under those circumstances," Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, told reporters.

Congressional Republicans have balked at several pieces of the Democratic package. Many don't want to federalize airport security workers. They prefer to have airlines contract out security services, while holding those workers to federal training standards.

GOP lawmakers are also opposed to Democratic add-ons, including a measure sponsored by Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, to spend more than $50-billion to provide extended unemployment insurance, job training and health care for laid-off airline industry workers. Kennedy's package also includes a $1.50 increase in the minimum wage to $6.65 -- a proposal the senator was pushing long before the September attacks.

MONEY LAUNDERING: Senators pushed closer to a vote on a measure that would expand the government's power to choke off money flows to terrorist networks, settling misgivings over civil liberties with a compromise that could become part of President Bush's antiterrorism package.

The bill, recommended unanimously Thursday by the Senate Banking Committee and sent to the full Senate, is intended to fight money laundering around the world, thwart the financing of terrorism and protect the U.S. banking system from illicit money.

-- Information from the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Associated Press was used in this report.

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