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After Sept. 11 Emergency Legislation Passes Quickly Through Congress - 2002-09-05

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon spurred the U.S. Congress to pass a series of measures aimed at tightening U.S. security and cracking down on terrorism.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, both houses of Congress passed a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against those believed responsible for the attacks. Within days, Congress gave its approval to Mr. Bush to conduct a military campaign against the al-Qaida terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the attacks.

The House and Senate also worked quickly to send Mr. Bush a $40 billion emergency spending measure for disaster recovery and anti-terrorism efforts.

"We will pay any price and bear any burden to make sure this proud nation wins the first war of the 21st century," said Congressman Dick Gephardt of Missouri.

The Bush administration next asked Congress for broader law enforcement authority to crack down on terrorists, legislation that proved to be controversial.

The measure called for giving law enforcement greater powers to wiretap suspected terrorists, share intelligence about them, and prosecute those who knowingly harbor terrorists. An unlikely alliance of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats came together to express concern that expanded powers could be abused in the future. A compromise was reached, calling for many of the wiretap provisions to expire in four years.

Controversy also marked a bill aimed at boosting aviation security. The measure became bogged down in a dispute over whether baggage inspectors at airports should be federal employees or remain private contractors.

"As a matter of national security, passenger screening can no longer be left to the private sector," said Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.

A compromise calling for federalizing baggage screeners, but allowing airports the option of returning to private screening firms after three years, paved the way for congressional passage. The bill, which also calls for more armed air marshals on flights and reinforcing cockpit doors, has been signed into law by President Bush.

Several measures were passed and signed into law with little controversy, including one to boost border security, sponsored by Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. "The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act will strengthen the security of our borders, improve our ability to screen visitors, monitor foreign nationals, and enhance our capacity to deter potential terrorists," he said.

Another bill passed and signed by President Bush dealt with responding to and preventing bioterrorism. "It combines sound policy and enhanced resources to better prepare our nation and to provide security to the American people," said the bills sponsor, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee.

Congress is expected to spend the rest of their session focused on anti-terrorism initiatives, most notably creating a Cabinet-level homeland security agency.

The plan, passed by the House, is being debated in the Senate amid partisan wrangling over whether to give the president the right to waive worker protection rights in the interest of national security.

Republicans support the provision, but Democrats, including West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, oppose it. "The agenda of this White House is becoming very clear: It is not homeland security in itself that this White House is lusting after," said Mr. Byrd. "Bin Laden is not the only target at which this house is pointing its six-gun. Also clearly in the bull's eye is the job security of thousands of federal employees, and the core values and rights of the workers which they represent."

Senate leaders believe a compromise can be reached and that legislation can be sent to President Bush for his signature before the end of the current session.