House Approves $29B Terror Bill

The House approved $29 billion early Friday for the fight against terrorism overseas and at home as the two parties grappled in a bitter election-year spat over war and the growing national debt.

Democrats and Republicans alike strongly backed the money the package would provide. Billions would be showered on the military, on Afghanistan and other U.S. allies, on rebuilding New York, and on the Coast Guard, explosive detection devices for airports, and other anti-terror initiatives.

Even so, the measure's 280-138 passage came only after bleary-eyed lawmakers had battled until nearly 3 a.m. EDT over issues that could resound in this fall's campaigns for congressional control. The overnight session highlighted a GOP resolve to not start lawmakers' Memorial Day recess without passage of a counterterrorism bill they could tell voters about.

The bill has a sneaky little provision designed to increase the national debt without a direct vote, reports CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Bob Fuss. The debt ceiling has to be raised quickly or the Treasury will run out of cash. But some nervous Republicans don't want to vote to do that in an election year, so leaders put language in this emergency spending bill to get the job done in a way that will let the Senate take the heat.

Over three days of unusually acerbic debate, Democrats accused Republicans of sneaking a borrowing increase into the bill while the GOP said Democrats were hindering money sorely needed by American troops abroad.

"They retreated from our responsibility to put politics aside when the time comes to strengthen our country," taunted House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas.

That prompted Democrats to accuse Republicans of smearing them by questioning their patriotism, as all pretenses that the war against terror should not become a political issue seemed to fade away.

"We don't want those soldiers used for your agenda," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

The Senate's anti-terror legislation was facing its own contentious path. The appropriations committee passed a $31 billion version of the bill on Wednesday. But Republicans, eager to trim it closer to the $27.1 billion President Bush proposed in March, blocked debate until Congress returns next month.

In a statement from Moscow, where Mr. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a historic nuclear arms treaty, Mr. Bush said the House "did a great service today for our men and women in the war against terrorism, for homeland security and for fiscal discipline."

More than half the House's Democrats ended up voting against the bill. Their chief objection was that majority Republicans had forced language into it that would pave the way for raising the current $5.95 trillion cap on federal borrowing.

The Bush administration wants a $750 billion boost in that limit enacted by late June, saying an unprecedented federal default otherwise awaits. It will be the first since 1997, when annual deficits turned to surpluses under President Clinton.

Democrats concede a borrowing increase is inevitable, but say it was forced by last year's GOP-written tax cut. They say that means Social Security surpluses will have to be diverted to pay for other programs — which while true will not affect the program's benefits or solvency, but gives them a political issue to raise.

"What you don't understand is an election is coming, and the American people are going to watch what you have done to Social Security," warned Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash.

DeLay called Democratic assertions of fiscal responsibility "the most garish and grotesque case of ideological cross-dressing in the history of the American people."

The money is for the remaining months of fiscal 2002, which ends Oct. 1. It is the second installment of anti-terrorism spending since the Sept. 11 attacks, following $40 billion lawmakers approved late last year.

The military would get the lion's share of the money: $14 billion in the Bush and Senate proposals, $15.8 billion under the Senate bill. Those funds would go for everything from bomb guidance systems to the Reserves and National Guard.

New York would get $5.5 billion under all three plans to rebuild from the Sept. 11 attacks on lower Manhattan. Most of the rest is for domestic security programs like staffing the new Transportation Security Administration, modernizing FBI computers and buttressing security at Energy Department nuclear weapons facilities.

There's even some money the president didn't ask for, reports Fuss, including an extra $200 million in aid for Israel.

The House bill would temporarily freeze the $10 billion loan guarantee program that Congress created late last year to help airlines whose business was eroded by the terrorist strikes.

US Airways officials have lobbied unsuccessfully so far to remove the provision, which lawmakers supporting them said could mean the airline will go out of business this summer. GOP leaders say the carrier should be able to get loans to carry it over until the fall, when the federal loans will be available again.

The Senate bill trims the loan program to $429 million this fiscal year and to $4 billion permanently.