House passes counter-terror powers

Compromise expected to get Senate OK

tax cut likely to be reduced

No action on airport security

War On Terrorism

The Nation

October 25, 2001|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Congress' post-attack agenda advanced yesterday with overwhelming House passage of legislation, shaped in a compromise with the Senate, to give federal authorities sweeping new powers to thwart and apprehend terrorists.

The House also offered an opening bid in the debate over reviving the economy by narrowly approving a $100 billion Republican tax-cut package that is sure to be altered in the Democratic-led Senate. Democrats favor spending more to help laid-off workers.

House Democrats, meantime, complained that Republican leaders are blocking action on a Senate-passed bill to tighten airport security - a third element of Congress' response to the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

House Republicans object to making all airport security employees part of the federal work force.

The counter-terrorism legislation, which passed the House 357-66 and is likely to be approved by the Senate by week's end, has been urgently sought by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

He says he needs such broad authority to bring to justice those responsible for the terrorist acts and to prevent future attacks. President Bush is expected to sign the measure.

"The House is taking a responsible step forward by giving law enforcement the tools necessary to secure the safety of Americans, while protecting our constitutional rights," said House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The measure would give police new powers to conduct secret searches of homes, tap cell phones and track Internet activity of criminal suspects. It would also crack down on money-laundering by making it easier to track the movement of large sums of cash through the financial system. And it would make it easier for intelligence agencies to share information with state and local officials.

In a compromise struck with the Senate, many of the new powers would expire after four years unless Congress renewed them. That provision was sought by lawmakers who fear that police agencies might abuse the new authority without congressional oversight.

"We have done the White House a great favor by taking the time to read and improve this bill before passing it," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Seven of the eight members of the House from Maryland voted for the legislation. The exception was Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat who said he feared that the new investigative powers would be so broad as to imperil civil liberties.

Cummings specifically mentioned wiretaps that could record conversations of people unconnected to the investigation targets, and a requirement that DNA samples be taken of anyone convicted of a crime of violence, even a misdemeanor assault.

While the debate over counter-terrorism legislation nears an end, differences in Congress over how to invigorate a sputtering economy made worse by the terrorist attacks are just heating up.

After one of the most sharply partisan debates since the Sept. 11 attacks, the House approved by the slender margin of 216-214 a $100 billion package of tax cuts that would provide most of its benefits to corporations and investors.

The House members from Maryland voted along party lines, except for Rep. Constance A. Morella, a Montgomery County Republican, who voted with the four Democrats against the bill. The three other Maryland Republicans voted for it.

Bush, who has proposed a smaller $75 billion package, called for approval of the House bill and praised some of its elements. But administration officials have made clear that the president is willing to negotiate with the Senate on a less ambitious proposal.

"I urge the Senate to act quickly to make sure that the American people understand that on this part of our homeland defense, our country and the Congress is united," Bush said yesterday at a Glen Burnie appearance.

House Republican leaders deliberately crafted an oversized tax-cut package in anticipation that it would be pared back. It calls for $40 billion in breaks for business costs and depreciation, and elimination of the alternative minimum tax for corporations, retroactive to 1986 - at a cost of $25 billion.

A small reduction in the tax on capital gains would be made by eliminating the current five-year holding period on assets to qualify for lower tax rate.

Sponsors said those provisions would provide quick financial relief to employers hurt by the economic downturn and encourage further investment in capital equipment.

"This package is designed to keep jobs, to enable people to keep good jobs and to keep companies from laying people off," said Rep. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican.

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