Washington In an extraordinary show of bipartisan unity, congressional leaders said they intended to begin pushing an emergency anti-terrorism package through Congress as early as Thursday with a price tag that could exceed $20 billion.
But a request by President Bush for congressional backing for the use of force against terrorists hit a snag because the White House wanted the authority to extend to future incidents as well. The dispute was described by congressional aides from both parties.
Even so, leaders said they believed agreement would come by next week on a measure stating Congress' support for the use of force by Bush against the terrorists who crashed airliners into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Tuesday, inflicting massive casualties.
Bush sent House Speaker Dennis Hastert a formal request Thursday for $20 billion and suggested he could request more money. Quick passage "will send a powerful signal of unity to our fellow Americans and to the world," Bush said.
"If additional resources are necessary, I will forward another request for additional funding," he said.
Background documents say the money is needed to provide assistance to victims and address other consequences of the attack, including "support to counter, investigate or prosecute" terrorism and increase money for transportation.
Emerging from a meeting of Congress' top Democrats and Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., told reporters:
"There is a unanimous understanding that whatever we do this week is a very minimal down payment to what will be required and what we will do in the days and weeks ahead."
House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said $20 billion was "very clearly designed to fund the initial response to this horrible act."
Among the final details to be worked out on the spending bill were the leeway Bush would have to disperse the money to specific programs without congressional approval.
Under the version that administration officials had prepared on Wednesday, the entire sum would be provided to an emergency response fund the president controls and he would be allowed to use it for broadly defined categories such as to "counter, investigate or prosecute domestic or international terrorism."
"We are not talking about second-guessing the president," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. "We are supposed to protect the taxpayers' interests."
"We don't want a dime's worth of difference with the president... but you don't make 10-year policy on attacking terrorism on the back on an envelope," Obey said.
Daschle said the separate bill on the use of force would be to restate his constitutional powers in that area. Like spending, the authority over force is a power that the two branches of government have contested throughout history.
"We want to give the president maximum flexibility, but we also want to recognize the constitutional responsibilities the Congress has," Daschle said.
Sen. John Warner of Virginia, top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he and others were trying to reach compromise language on the resolution on force.
"It is in the best interests of the United States when faced with a crisis ... that there be a contemporary expression by the coequal branch of government, the Congress, that they support him in such actions as he deems essential for our national security," Warner told reporters.
While the thought of spending billions more this year and likely tapping into formerly untouchable Social Security reserves would have ignited a political firestorm just a week ago, lawmakers said Wednesday the request would be granted now.
"That debate is over at this point," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.
"If we can't protect our national security, how can we protect Social Security?" Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said.