War talk begins in Congress as lawmakers prepare to fund anti-terrorist measures

Thursday, September 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congressional leaders were trying to make final decisions Thursday on the Bush administration's request for a multibillion-dollar down-payment to fight terrorism and legislation authorizing force against terrorists.

House and Senate leaders of both parties planned to discuss those issues in an extraordinary session that underlined how Congress' usual deep partisan fissures were being bridged in response to Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington.

``There is absolutely no light or air between Democrats and Republicans, between the Congress and the president,'' House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said Thursday on ABC's ``Good Morning America.'' ``We will stand with the president to get this done and to take whatever action he deems and our defense people deem is the right thing to do.''

Some lawmakers were advocating a formal declaration of war on terrorists.

``I say, bomb the hell out of them,'' Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., said Wednesday. ``If there's collateral damage, so be it. They certainly found our civilians to be expendable.''

President Bush was expected to ask Congress on Thursday for $20 billion in immediate funds to help rebuild the damaged Pentagon, clean up the debris from collapsed buildings at New York's World Trade Center, reimburse federal and local governments for rescue efforts, and bolster security.

Lawmakers said they hoped to have the bill to Bush by Thursday, but Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he doubted the measure could be approved in one day and said there was no final agreement on a dollar amount.

At the same time, a separate measure would authorize the administration to undertake military action under the War Powers Act.

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.

Congress suspended its normal operations Wednesday _ a day after lawmakers were evacuated in the first mandatory evacuation ever of the entire Capitol complex _ and devoted the entire day to the terrorists who crashed hijacked jets into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon.

The House and Senate broke during the day for closed-door briefings with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and passed a resolution condemning terrorism and expressing solidarity with the president in his determination to ``punish the perpetrators of these attacks, as well as their sponsors.''

The word ``war'' was on the lips of many lawmakers, who either called the attacks an act of war on the United States or called on Congress to declare a war of its own.

``America came face to face with undisguised evil,'' said Rep. Nick Smith, R-Mich. ``These acts of war may have bloodied America, but America will remain unbowed.''

``There is no such thing as a measured response to this horrific attack,'' said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. ``This act of war will be avenged.''

Senators went further, suggesting that Congress formally declare war against terrorism, elusive terrorism mastermind Osama bin Laden _ who appears to be the top suspect in the terrorist attacks _ or any nation that harbors him.

``If we make a declaration of war, we're recognizing that a state of war exists, like Roosevelt did after Pearl Harbor,'' said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

``We say to them, 'We're at war, turn him over to us or there'll be military consequences,' Specter said.

Hatch suggested a broader focus, saying bin Laden was ``not worth that, but terrorism is worth a declaration of war, if that's what the Congress so chooses to do. That would give the president and the armed forces complete power to do what is necessary to win the war.''

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, added that a war declaration would move the United States away from a criminal investigation footing with regard to the attacks to one geared more specifically to military action. ``I believe that is the way the American people want to go,'' he said.

Other lawmakers called for caution. ``I think we need to give ourselves a bit of time,'' said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. ``We need to take some dramatic action _ this is clearly an act of war _ but it's a different adversary and one without uniforms or geographical boundaries so I would want us to have a pretty good discussion to understand the ramifications on that.''

``We've got to make sure when we retaliate, it's against the people who were involved in this terrorism and not just strike out blindly,'' said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a senior member of the House International Relations Committee.