After Last-Minute Flurry, Congress Calls It Quits for Year
WASHINGTON – Congress left town on a bitter note Thursday after an all-night session to pass an economic stimulus plan in the House failed to sway Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to bring the measure to a floor vote.
A flurry of activity accompanied the last day of the session, but much of Congress' successes were muted by hostility from Republicans toward the Democratic leader.
In a barrage of blistering attacks, Senate Republicans made the case that Daschle will shoulder all responsibility for the failure to get a stimulus package because he refused to allow the vote even though Senate Democratic centrists said they thought they had the support needed to get the bill over the 60-vote procedural hurdle that would have been brought had the bill been voted on in the Senate.
Senate GOP members protested the decision by voting against adjournment for the year. Still, the 56-40 vote was enough to call it a day.
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said the bill may be revived in January depending on what President Bush wants and how well the economy is faring.
Congress was able to sail through a $20 billion package financing the war in Afghanistan and recovery from the Sept. 11 attacks. The 408-6 vote was approval of the details of an anti-terror measure that was included in the $318 billion defense bill. The Senate's accompanying 94-2 vote means Bush will get a bill that matches his budget parameters but gives more to recovery than military funding that he sought.
The disbursement includes more money for Customs Service inspectors, countering bioterrorism, hiring sky marshals, strengthening cockpit doors, bolstering security at the Capitol and reimbursing law enforcement agencies that responded to the Sept. 11 airline crashes.
"Rationality prevailed over stubbornness," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., after the vote.
The overall defense bill does provide $7.8 billion for missile defense, and a 5 percent increase in military personnel salaries. With a continuing war, Congress may approve more emergency military spending next year.
Congress also gave final approval to a $123 billion labor and education bill that is $11 billion higher than last year and $7 billion more than the president requested. It boosts spending for schools following the recently passed education overhaul, and increases funds for the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Wednesday, the House and Senate gave their okay to a $15.4 billion foreign aid bill. The measure, $400 million over last year's total, pares Bush's request for aid to South American countries trying to cut production there of illegal drugs. It also bars federal aid to international groups that help provide abortions overseas.
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 on Oct. 1. Lawmakers seldom complete all 13 annual spending bills by that date.
In the final flurry Thursday, lawmakers also approved bills allowing victims of the terror attacks to waive income taces for two years and grants other tax breaks to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"This is something that will make a real difference in 3,000 families' lives," said Sen. John Corzine, D-N.J.
Other last-minute legislation approved by the Congress included bills to have the government cover most insurance company losses if another major terrorist attack occurs; set up programs aimed at combatting bioterrorists; and increase monitoring of foreign students while hiring hundreds of new immigration inspectors.
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.
Dead for the year was a bill allowing a $16 billion settlement of a spectrum ownership dispute between the government and NextWave Telcom Inc. An effort by the airline industry to be granted a 30-day delay in meeting a mandated January deadline for inspecting all checked bags for explosives also fell short.
Lawmakers also found room for spending projects in their home districts. There was $300,000 for a road widening project in Woodville, Miss., and $4.5 million for the Fort Des Moines memorial park and education center.
Also included is language permitting the Smithsonian Institution to begin collecting artifacts of the Sept. 11 attacks for future display.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.