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Lawmakers working on post-tragedy funding
After hearing pleas for help from Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton of New York, congressional appropriators agreed Thursday to provide $40 billion in emergency spending for rescue and cleanup efforts and for punishing terrorists who targeted the United States this week.
That amount is twice as much as President Bush had originally requested from Congress for domestic and military use. But, at a White House meeting with Schumer, Clinton and their counterparts from Virginia, the president agreed that another $20 billion was warranted.
The request came as the New York senators began to sort out the costs of replacing Wall Street office buildings damaged in Tuesday's attack, repairing New York's subway system, which was also affected, and covering the price of rescue efforts in Manhattan alone.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said there are many unforeseen costs in the aftermath of the terrorism that destroyed the World Trade Center, devastated the Pentagon and killed a jet's passengers, crew and its hijackers in a crash in Pennsylvania. "This may be the tip of the iceberg," he said.
Early Friday, the White House gave its approval to details of the $40 billion package, and negotiators appeared close to clearing a separate measure that would support the use of "necessary and appropriate force" against those responsible for Tuesday's assault. The House was expected to take up both bills Friday.
In the Senate, the massive amount of money for domestic and military spending caught Senate Republican leaders by surprise. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) called a meeting of his Republican conference for Friday to review the details.
But the pumped-up price tag seemed to become inevitable once Bush signed on. It was the result of intense lobbying by Schumer and Clinton, as well as lawmakers from New Jersey, Connecticut and Virginia, all affected by this week's terrorism.
At the White House, Bush met with the New York senators, as well as Republican Virginia Sens. John Warner and George Allen, whose state is home to the Pentagon.
"When I asked the president would he support this, at our little meeting, and he said `yes,' unequivocally, there was a lump in my throat," Schumer said.
Even so, he said the additional $20 billion would not be enough. "The devastation is enormous. We have never seen a tragedy like this occur," said Schumer, who still called the money "completely generous."
Early Thursday, the House voted to provide victims of the terrorist attacks with tax breaks normally given to military personnel injured in war zones.
The "victims' relief bill" passed the House on a 418-0 vote, and the Senate was expected to quickly pass the measure. The legislation would forgive 2001 income taxes for all victims of the attacks and would effectively cut in half any estate tax. It would also mandate that federal disaster benefits be provided tax-free, and it would prohibit taxing any payments from airline companies to the families of crash victims.
In addition, House Republicans said they are putting together an economic stimulus package with a capital gains tax cut to try to ward off a recession.
"The most objective counterterrorism weapon we have in the long run is that there is no long-term setback to our economy, so that we can continue to grow and be strong," said Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Also in the House, six Republicans introduced a declaration of war resolution Thursday against "any entity" that committed terrorism against the United States on Sept. 11. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) said he wanted to "tee this issue up," even though most of his colleagues oppose such a declaration.
Warner, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, dismissed Barr's idea, calling it "beneath our dignity to have a declaration of war on this."
Warner said the declaration of war has "very complicated and limited meanings in foreign policy." He said the resolution he and other lawmakers are working on "will be far stronger, send a much more resolute message throughout our nation and the world, that this president, this Congress, and the people of these United States stand squarely behind the commander-in-chief and our armed forces when he gives the order."
The last time Congress approved such a resolution was when President George Bush sent troops to the Persian Gulf.