Issues over funds control stalls $40 billion bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress' attempts to pass a $40 billion bill for recovery from Tuesday's terrorist attacks and to combat terrorism -- twice the amount originally requested by the White House -- stalled on Thursday night, although lawmakers remained hopeful a resolution could be reached soon.
Although the House had hoped to pass the measure Thursday night, last-minute snags over who controls how the funds would be spent -- the White House or Congress -- delayed consideration until at least Friday.
Republican congressional aides said the White House wanted "unfettered" authority over the money, a policy lawmakers said would violate their constitutional rights to control federal funds.
Still, lawmakers continued to take pains since Tuesday's attacks to work in a bipartisan way and show that Congress is unified and willing to act swiftly.
The White House requested $20 billion, but House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said lawmakers agreed, in a rare bipartisan meeting, to double the amount to $40 billion.
According to appropriations committee aides from both parties, $20 billion will go toward domestic humanitarian assistance and recovery efforts -- primary for New York. The rest will go toward intelligence, law enforcement agencies, improved security for transportation systems and other expenses. Congress' efforts were interrupted for about 45 minutes Thursday evening, when the U.S. Capitol was evacuated after bomb-sniffing dogs hit on a suspicious package during a sweep of the building, said Capitol police spokesman Lt. Dan Nichols.
The package was examined by bomb squad officers who found it was not a threat, and lawmakers were allowed to go back inside at around 6:15 p.m.
The evacuation came just two days after the Capitol and other federal buildings in Washington were forced to close down in the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center in New York and collapsed part of the Pentagon outside the nation's capital. And it served as a reminder of the unease that still lingers over the country in the wake of the worst terrorist attack ever.
In addition, amid the calls for military action against the attacks' perpetrators, the Senate Armed Services Committee is going ahead with a hearing on President Bush's nomination of Air Force Gen. Richard Myers to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
During the two days since hijacked jetliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, legislators have cast aside the usual partisan squabbles, vowing unity in the face of the unprecedented attacks against the United States.
"This is a national emergency. This is a national crisis, and we cannot worry about what the budgetary costs are. We have to get this done," said House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, referring to the $40 billion measure.
"There is unity in this country, in the Congress and among the people of our country, just as after Pearl Harbor," he told CNN. "We stood together and fought a common enemy. That's what we're going to do this time."
Congress also is working out a resolution to authorize the use of force in response to the attacks.
Legislators were hoping for a resolution similar to that crafted in 1991, which authorized force against Iraq prior to the Gulf War. Some Democrats have raised concerns that the final statement should not resemble the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the 1964 document that critics say essentially gave President Johnson carte blanche for the Vietnam War.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said Wednesday: "Whether we come up with a solution or not is an open question. Members on both sides of the aisle are wanting to be careful about things we write here."
Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, called the measure under consideration "a resolution of resolve" and said the meetings came at the White House's request.
The House on Thursday passed a resolution to treat as war casualties the firefighters and police officers killed as a result of Tuesday's attacks, thereby granting federal benefits to their families.
The House also passed a measure urging all Americans to fly the United States flag at home, work and in public places as a sign of national solidarity.
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