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Congress endorses the use of force

WASHINGTON - Voting overwhelmingly, Congress gave President Bush sweeping powers yesterday to use military force to avenge Tuesday's terrorist attacks. But it stopped short of granting the president open-ended authority to prevent future attacks.

The House completed action on the measure late last night, voting 420-1 to back the president's use of force. Congress' authorization - which many legal analysts say is not required by law - is intended to demonstrate congressional support for what the administration has called a global war against terrorism. Rep. Barbara Lee, a California Democrat, cast the dissenting vote.

"This is the most solemn responsibility that Congress can undertake," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said as he began an emotionally charged debate that reflected no dissent.

"A sworn enemy that dares not confront us in the open attacked us in the most cowardly way by targeting innocent citizens," he said. "We must eliminate the scourge of terrorism. This will be the great challenge for our generation."

As part of its response to the devastating terrorist assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress also approved a $40 billion emergency spending bill yesterday. The money - twice the amount Bush had asked for -is to finance military action against the terrorists and help repair the damage they caused.

"This bill is a down payment on the efforts of this country to undertake to find and punish those who committed this terrible act and those who supported them, and it is a down payment on providing the resources necessary to rebuild this nation," said Rep. David R. Obey of Wisconsin, senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Both proposals were shaped during private negotiations between leaders of both parties and the White House. Despite the show of solidarity, both measures were redrafted by Congress to deny Bush some of the broad latitude he had sought on both military action and spending.

The Senate resolution on force, passed 96-0, authorizes Bush to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

"What we did was to say with one American voice that we are behind this effort to root out terrorism," said Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican.

At the insistence of senators of both parties, though, Bush's proposal was changed to drop language he sought that would have supported broad authority for the president to take pre-emptive action against terrorists not necessarily linked to Tuesday's attacks.

There is general agreement between the White House and Congress that the president has authority under the Constitution to respond to attacks on the United States and to deter terrorism. But some senators said they were concerned about lending their endorsement to future pre-emptive strikes against any target the president chooses.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, said he believes that the final language backs broad authority for Bush to retaliate against people and organizations associated with Tuesday's assaults but not to attack "any self-defined terrorist group that you simply don't want to see around anymore."

In one respect, the language was broader than the president's request: It supports presidential authority to use force against not only those directly involved in the attacks but also those who "harbor" the terrorists. That language matches what Bush has said will be the policy of the United States.

"No one should think what we have passed here is anything less than a declaration of war," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Neither the White House nor most members of Congress favored a declaration of war because they believed it applied only in cases where the enemy is another country.

Some senators expressed uneasiness about the final language.

"We might have tightened it a little bit more," said Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "I would have been more specific.

"The shadow of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution still haunts me," McCain added, referring to the broadly worded measure that President Lyndon B. Johnson invoked as his authority to conduct the war in Vietnam.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt said he wished the resolution had required that Bush report to Congress shortly after taking military action.

"Some members would feel better about it," Gephardt said. But he said the resolution was "unique because the foe we face is unique."

The emergency spending was not only more narrowly drawn than Bush requested but twice as large. Bush had asked for $20 billion that could be used at his discretion for military actions, disaster relief, counterterrorism activities and tighter security at airports and other transportation facilities.

Lawmakers from New York said they wanted a more specific commitment of funds as a down payment on the staggering losses suffered by their city. Other legislators wanted greater control over other categories of spending.

The result was a $40 billion proposal, of which at least $20 billion must be spent for disaster recovery efforts in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the three states where the hijacked planes crashed.

Bush received $10 billion to use at his discretion; $10 billion more was added to be doled out through legislation by Congress.

"We are more than satisfied," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat. "The nation has really stepped up to the plate for New York."

Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who has served in the Senate for nearly three decades, said he has never before seen such bipartisan cooperation and predicted that the tone would prevail for some time.

"I think a lot people are finding that things they used to think were important now seem fairly petty," Domenici said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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