- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

Congressional leaders neared agreement last night to provide $40 billion in emergency spending in response to the terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and New York's World Trade Center.

Some of the money will go to beef up security at airports, to increase national security and intelligence operations, and to hunt down the perpetrators of those attacks. But under a tentative deal reached between congressional Republicans and Democrats and the White House, $20 billion must go to address domestic humanitarian needs and disaster relief for Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.

"The time for talking is over; it is time for action to start," House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, said yesterday.

Some conservatives objected to the massive price tag, but Democrats said "reality" was the reason for the increase.

"In the end, [the price tag] will be more than this," Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, said.

The agreement ends two days of negotiations after talks faltered Wednesday night.

At that time, Democrats were objecting to the White House's original request, which would have allowed Congress no say in how the money would be spent.

Mr. Obey said that throughout World War II, Congress retained control over expenditures. "They didn't lose their head then, and there is no reason to lose our head now," Mr. Obey said.

But hoping to dispel perceptions of a fractured front, leaders from both parties say Wednesday night's delay had more to do with inexperience in interparty negotiations than with partisan differences. This is one of the first — and arguably the most important — bills Congress has tried to actually pass since Democrats took control of the Senate.

Also a factor in Wednesday's misstep was a lack of communication between House and Senate leaders, House and Senate aides said yesterday.

But yesterday morning, party leaders assured the nation they were unified.

"Everybody wants to deliver the resources to this administration so that it can respond," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican, said yesterday morning.

House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, agreed.

"There is no air, there is no light, between the Congress and the president and between Democrats and Republicans. This country is as united as I've ever seen it," Mr. Gephardt said on CBS News.

Under the agreement, the president will have almost complete latitude on spending the first $10 billion. He will be required to submit a detailed description of where the next $10 billion would go, which Congress would have the right to reject. The final $20 billion will be formally allocated as Congress debates the fiscal 2002 appropriations bills.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee reached quick agreement on a package of tax breaks for the victims of, and emergency workers responding to, the attacks.

"This is the [Congress] first substantive reflection of the fact that we are at war," said Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican.

"Those who died in these attacks and their aftermath are heroes of war. The federal government must do all it can to honor those heroes and offer assistance to those left behind so that their grief is not deepened by any additional suffering," said Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat.

The bill would eliminate any income taxes owed this year, and reduce the estate taxes owed, for those killed in the attacks.

It would also ensure that payments made by the airlines on behalf of passengers would be tax-exempt.


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