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Archive for Friday, December 21, 2001

$20 billion slated for war, recovery

December 21, 2001

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— A $20 billion package financing the war in Afghanistan and the recovery from the Sept. 11 attacks swept to congressional approval Thursday as lawmakers capped an extraordinary 2001 session and adjourned for the year.

By a 408-6 tally, the House approved the anti-terrorism measure and a massive $318 billion defense bill coupled with it. The Senate's 94-2 passage sent President Bush a bill that had sparked a politicized, weeks-long clash between him and lawmakers about how to marshal federal resources to combat terrorism.

"Rationality prevailed over stubbornness," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., highlighting the raw feeling that lingered over the measure, which saw Bush insist on limiting the package's price tag.

The Senate sounded the final gavel soon after 9 p.m. CST, ending an epic year that saw Democrats wrest Senate control from Republicans, budget surpluses devolve into deficits, and the legislative focus shift from a political duel about Social Security to an all-out campaign against terrorism.

Congress also gave final approval to a $123 billion social services measure containing big boosts for education and biomedical research, and a $15.4 billion foreign aid bill.

In a final flurry, lawmakers sent Bush bills granting tax breaks to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, lowering federal fees paid by investors and helping states cleanse polluted industrial sites. The Senate voted to set up bioterrorism programs like stockpiling vaccines, but a final version of that bill will await work next year.

Other measures, such as a Republican economic plan, fell by the wayside amid finger-pointing. Lawmakers streamed to airports for a monthlong recess in a mix of relief and recrimination.

"To me, the Senate is an enigma," complained a peeved House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., as it became plain the GOP economic bill would die in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Even a routine Senate resolution to adjourn Congress passed 56-40 in a GOP protest after Democrats killed the economic plan, saying it would do little for workers.

Passage of the foreign aid bill by voice vote marked Congress' completion of its work on this year's $2 trillion budget nearly three months after it began Oct. 1. Lawmakers seldom complete all 13 annual spending bills by that date.

As usual in the waning hours of a session, lawmakers and lobbyists hunted furiously for ways to squeeze legislation through Congress. The House approved a bill to increase monitoring of foreign students while hiring hundreds of new immigration inspectors, but the Senate never got to it.

The Senate gave voice approval to a bill that would allow relatives of the Sept. 11 victims to view on closed circuit television the upcoming trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man indicted on charges related to the attacks. House passage will have to come next year.

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