Both houses of Congress have overwhelmingly approved a $15-billion aid package to help U.S. airlines cope with staggering financial losses following last week's airborne terrorist attacks. Correspondent David Swan reports.
Because hijacked passenger planes were used in the terrorist assault in New York and Washington, the airlines have borne the brunt of the financial turmoil that followed. Ticket sales are down sharply while new security procedures raise costs. As a result, the major carriers have slashed their flight schedules and laid off tens of thousands of employees.
Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott says Congress must step in to keep the damage from rippling further throughout the shaken economy. "We're determined to do what's necessary to be helpful to this industry, which is a key leverage component (a pivotal part) of our economy. And for us not to act I think would not be the responsible thing to do."
The bill includes $5 billion in direct aid and $10 billion in loan guarantees. An earlier bill provided $3 billion to strengthen security at the nation's airports. However, for Majority Leader Tom Daschle the task of making the airlines safer has just begun. "There is also of course a very, very big concern about addressing the need for greater security," he said. "Most people in my caucus - almost every one of them - said 'you're never going to get the airlines back economically until people are confident they can fly securely.'"
President Bush's decision to form a new Office of Homeland Security is being praised by both parties. However, some Senate Democrats would create a separate post to oversee counter-terrorism and pull together the government's various anti-terrorist functions. Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham would also make it easier for law enforcement authorities to keep watch on terrorist suspects. "It is more cumbersome to get a wiretap against a foreign individual operating in the United States for purposes of espionage or terrorism than it is to get a wiretap for a garden-variety criminal enterprise," he said.
There are disputes over how far these surveillance powers and other measures should go. But the lawmakers' new spirit of cooperation still appears to be carrying the day in what is normally a sharply partisan Congress.