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Requests for federal terror aid scrutinized

As more groups ask for money, the White House and Congress are becoming more selective about who gets aid.

©Associated Press,
published October 15, 2001


WASHINGTON -- After an initial burst of federal aid, the Bush administration and some lawmakers are tapping the brakes on taxpayer assistance to groups seeking help after the terrorist attacks.

From hotel companies to urban water systems, scores of trade associations, and state and local governments are pleading for aid. While no one has an authoritative tally, congressional aides estimate that the requests total tens of billions of dollars, probably more than $100-billion.

"You name the industry and it's been coming by" for help, said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

Lawmakers also have their own proposals.

Sens. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Zell Miller, D-Ga., want to provide $500-per-person tax credits for personal travel. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants more than $30-billion to improve highways and other transportation systems. Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., are pushing $1.4-billion to prepare for bioterrorist attacks.

Congress has approved $40-billion to repair the damage and bolster domestic security and the military. Federal agencies have proposed more than $120-billion in "helpful suggestions" to spend it, White House budget director Mitchell Daniels said last week.

President Bush and Congress have provided $15-billion for the airline industry. Lawmakers are writing rival plans for stimulating the dormant economy. House Republicans have a $100-billion plan, heavy with tax cuts; Democratic packages might grow to $120-billion, mostly for government spending.

"The bucket was full. It can take a few leaks," Daniels said, referring to robust federal surpluses that had been projected until recently. "It can't take the bottom dropping out, however."

Competing for federal help is a dizzying list of groups: travel industry employees, gambling interests, tourist-reliant Hawaii, Amtrak, restaurants, travel agents, airports, the insurance industry, mortgage bankers and others.

City water departments serving 160-million people have asked for $5-billion to protect drinking water and wastewater plants.

Amtrak, the federally subsidized passenger railroad, has requested $3.1-billion to improve security.

Representatives from the tourism industry asked lawmakers for grants, federally backed loans and spending to promote travel.

No one knows what the final total will be, but the requests have begun causing concern among lawmakers from both parties. They realize that what in August looked like a $176-billion surplus for the fiscal year that started Oct. 1 is all but certain to end up as a deficit in the tens of billions.

"We'll look at other situations case by case, but we're not making any invitations" for requests for aid, said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.

"They're asking for the moon," said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas. "But we need to address it."

New York Gov. George Pataki and several New Yorkers from Congress visited congressional leaders last week, pursuing $54-billion for debris removal, rebuilding and economic recovery.

New York bore the brunt of the Sept. 11 attacks that killed more than 5,000 people, leveled the World Trade Center and destroyed part of the Pentagon. But Pataki emerged only with promises that his request would be considered.

"There's no lack of sympathy here," said Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls one-third of the $2-trillion federal budget. "We can only say we'll do the best we can with the limited resources the federal government has."

Further magnifying New York's woes, there might be a fight over whether the state will get half the enacted $40-billion emergency package, as it expected.

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