- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Lawmakers are pushing a bipartisan war agenda that includes aid for the distressed airline industry, possible tax cuts to stimulate the shaky economy and expanding the FBI's powers to pursue terrorists.
When Congress returns to work Thursday, lawmakers are likely to discuss providing nearly $15 billion in cash, loans and tax relief for airlines and a business-friendly tax package, which could include doubling tax deductions for small businesses. Congressional leaders also are considering a capital-gains-tax cut and an investment tax credit to spur spending.
Lawmakers said the steps will help President Bush fight a war by reviving the economy.
"We're going to have to do the airline aid right away," said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican.
The airline industry was on its way to a dismal year even before terrorists hijacked and crashed four planes last Tuesday, causing the federal government to ground flights for several days. Lawmakers are developing a package that would provide an immediate cash infusion of about $2.5 billion, guaranteed loans of $12.5 billion and relief from the federal tax on aviation fuel.
The industry is lobbying for a $20 billion federal bailout. Airline officials said the industry already has lost $1 billion due to the shutdown and plummeting reservations. Major airlines have trimmed schedules by 20 percent and an industry group said as many as 100,000 airline layoffs are likely in coming weeks.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, pledged yesterday to do "everything in my power to ensure that Congress acts to stabilize the financial condition of the airlines as soon as possible as we begin to rebuild from this tragedy and restore our nation's confidence in flying."
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican, and Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the top Democrat on the tax-writing committee, said the panel will hold a closed-door meeting on Thursday with a bipartisan group of economists to discuss what can be done to prevent the crisis from tipping the economy into a full-blown recession.
The economists will be asked to talk about options for short-term, intermediate and long-term economic growth.
White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was drafting the administration's proposal yesterday and working with Rep. Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said yesterday he is optimistic after meeting with congressional leaders that lawmakers will act quickly "to provide law enforcement with the additional tools that are necessary to fight terrorism."
Those tools include more authority for FBI agents to search suspects and to wiretap phone calls, and stiffer penalties for people who harbor terrorists.
Mr. Ashcroft also wants Congress to ease restrictions on detaining and expelling foreigners who associate with terrorists, and to expand the government's ability to trace money-laundering mechanisms used by terrorist organizations. He said the new powers are needed urgently because Justice Department officials believe "associates of the hijackers that have ties to terrorist organizations may be a continuing presence in the United States."
With Congress responding to these urgent matters, partisan issues such as campaign finance reform and a patients' bill of rights have all but disappeared from the political agenda. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that despite the national tragedy, Congress should complete work on the president's education reform and the patients' rights legislation.
"The Congress still has a job to do," Mr. Fleischer said. "We still are a constitutional system. And that's what's kept us strong, and that's what's going to enable us to win."
There is clearly momentum for lawmakers to approve Mr. Ashcroft's request for greater investigative powers. On Thursday, the Senate approved by voice vote a counterterrorism amendment by Mr. Kyl that gives law enforcement agencies "trap and trace" authority to track phone calls and computer communications by suspected terrorists.
The FBI has been requesting such authority for four years, to no avail.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was one of the few lawmakers to speak against the measure last week.
"We are going to amend our wiretap laws so we can look into anybody's computers," Mr. Leahy said. "Maybe that will make us feel safer. And maybe what the terrorists have done made us a little bit less safe. Maybe they have increased Big Brother in this country."
Mr. Kyl, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said there is "a very strong sentiment" among his colleagues to expand the FBI's powers.
And he said lawmakers should consider other long-range plans to deal with terrorists' improved ability to evade surveillance by using encryption and fiber-optics communication.
He said he also favors a proposal to improve tracking of people who are in the United States illegally.
John Godfrey contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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