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US Lawmakers Finish Business for the Year - 2001-12-21

U.S. lawmakers finished up the remaining major legislative business for the year Thursday by adding money for homeland security but failing to agree on a plan to help the flagging American economy.

Lawmakers approved a $20 billion anti-terrorism package as part of a funding bill for the defense department.

The anti-terrorism funding includes more money to help New York City recover from the September 11 attacks and also allocates money around the country to beef up security to stave off future attacks.

Senator Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, said "the money in this bill to secure our borders, our airports, our ports, to protect against bio-terrorism and to assist first-responders (fire and police) will send a strong signal to our citizens and our potential adversaries of our determination to win this war against terrorism on every front."

Lawmakers also put the final touches on a $15 billion foreign aid bill that recommends sanctions against the Palestinian Authority if it does not comply with peace accords.

The foreign aid bill also provides for an end to the ban on U.S. military assistance to Azerbaijan as a reward for that country's help in the war on terrorism. The measure also includes increased funding to combat the flow of illegal drugs from South America.

But congressional Democrats and the president and his Republican allies were not able to bridge their differences on a proposal to stimulate the U.S. economy and help the unemployed through a series of business and personal tax breaks.

The Republican-controlled House approved a plan favored by the president, but the plan was blocked from consideration in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Republicans accused Democrats of stalling action on the stimulus plan to gain advantage in next year's congressional midterm elections.

President Bush said he was eager to sign the bill to help those who have lost their jobs in the recent economic downturn. "I think we need to pass that bill," he said. "I think, for the good of the American people, that bill ought to get out of the United States Senate and get to my desk so that we can help the unemployed people."

Democrats oppose the tax breaks as too large and they also argue that the bill does not go far enough to provide health care coverage for those who have been laid off.

Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle, said "I think that it is almost impossible to think of a Republican remedy that does not involve a tax cut. Our view is that tax cuts have merit and ought to be examined, but that there is a lot more to economic and fiscal policy than tax cuts."

The impasse over the stimulus plan is the latest example of how opposition Democrats are willing to break with the president over domestic issues even as they strongly support him in the war on terrorism.