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Congress cooperating in wake of attacks

From Jonathan Karl
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It was a scene you don't see very often in Washington.

When the United States' four top congressional leaders gathered for a joint television appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, they went not to debate, but to agree.

"I think the message is very simply we are united when it comes to a national threat as great as this," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota .

And that national threat has, at least for now, ended politics as we knew it.

"This Republican/Democrat thing is gone now," New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a Republican, said recently.

That may be an overstatement, but the change has been stunning. Take Daschle's muted criticism, for example, of a key Republican idea to stimulate the economy:

"It's no secret I'm not wild about a capital gains tax cut, but we're going to stay unified as we approach these things," he said.

Before the terrorist attacks, Daschle would have lashed out at the idea as a giveaway to the rich. Typical of those pre-September 11 politics was a memo from Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi declaring "war" on Democrats, and Daschle's harsh criticism of President Bush's handling of world affairs while Bush was out of the country.

Now even interest groups have declared a cease-fire. An internal memo by the Sierra Club environmental group the day after the attack declared: "For now we are going to stop aggressively pushing our agenda and will cease bashing President Bush."

Quiet disagreement

Although Congress, with almost no public debate or dissent, has swiftly moved to rubber-stamp the president's requests for everything from emergency spending to the use of military force, there have been disagreements along the way. But they have taken place behind closed doors.

"That's the place to have heated words," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican.

Some Democrats were livid that the airline industry included nothing for laid-off workers, and many in both parties complained privately about funneling as much as $15 billion to an industry they say was mismanaged and in trouble before the attacks. Despite the complaints, the bailout measure passed overwhelmingly.

The lack of much public disagreement reflects the feeling among many in Congress that, for now, at least, the crisis has shifted the balance of power to the president, as the country, wanting unified leadership, looks to the White House.





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