WASHINGTON — The Senate Friday approved $40 billion in emergency aid to help the victims and hunt down the perpetrators of this week's terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. The House was to follow suit within minutes.
The 96-0 Senate vote came just hours before President Bush, accompanied by a contingent of New York lawmakers, was to visit the site in New York where two hijacked jets rammed into the World Trade Center towers, destroying them. Another commandeered airliner was crashed into the Pentagon.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., lauded the rapid-fire work that brought agreement on both the spending and a separate measure authorizing use of force. The Senate began voting on that immediately after approving the $40 billion.
"These are different times," Lott told colleagues. "And we have got to act decisively. The American people expect it of us, and they will accept nothing less."
"It is the down payment on providing the resources necessary to rebuild this nation," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. The $40 billion package was double what the White House originally requested from Congress.
The Senate was in an exceptionally somber mood when it approved the spending measure, with most lawmakers taking the unusual step of sitting at their desks during the roll call.
In a second legislative effort, Congress was to back up its financial contribution with a measure authorizing the president to use "necessary and appropriate force" in retaliating for the terrorist strikes. The Senate was voting Friday, and the House Saturday, on that bill, which is crafted to show support for the president while protecting the constitutional role of Congress in overseeing military actions.
House plans to pass the spending bill Thursday night had to be put off when the White House asked for more control over how and when the money would be spent. "It was a principled debate about the prerogatives of the branches," White House budget chief Mitchell Daniels said shortly after midnight when the two sides finally shook hands on the package.
The bill provides an immediate $10 billion to be used to respond to the attacks, counter domestic and international terrorism, increase transportation security and repair facilities damaged by the facilities.
Another $10 billion would be made available 15 days after the White House informs Congress of a plan for its use. The remaining $20 billion would be included in spending bills for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Under the agreement reached with the White House, at least half the $40 billion will go to disaster recovery activities in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where a fourth hijacked plane crashed last Tuesday.
The bill, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young, R-Fla., is another indication that the nation is more united than at any time since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. "Americans will not live in fear and we will not allow attacks on our people and our places."
President Bush, in seeking the use of force authorization, joined his predecessors in the White House in stressing that, as commander in chief, he has the authority to launch military attacks overseas. But he said it was important for Congress to show solidarity with whatever steps he undertakes against those involved in the attacks.
"If he feels there is a need for clarity, we want to provide that clarity," Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said.
But lawmakers also insisted that the language in the measure be narrowed to ensure that Congress is not ceding its constitutional power to declare war by giving the president open-ended authority to carry out future military action.
"The question is how do you fashion the language so that we don't have another Tonkin Gulf Resolution and I'm confident that can be done," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
Congress has been protective of its role in approving combat missions since the 1964 Tonkin Gulf Resolution gave President Johnson powers to expand U.S. troop presence in Vietnam.
Some were urging Congress to go beyond an authorization of force and issue a declaration of war against those involved in Tuesday's attack and people or nations that support and harbor them.
Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., said the declaration would give full support to the president and his assertion that the United States had been thrust into the first war of the 21st century by the terrorist attacks.
But Sen. John Warner, R-Va., top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the situation was different from declaring war against a state, as Congress did against Japan after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. "Today the threat is diverse, it is different, and it is largely unknown."
The White House originally sought $20 billion in emergency funding, but Hastert said Bush agreed to double that amount after meeting with New York lawmakers.