WASHINGTON – Maryland lawmakers joined a unified Congress Friday to approve $40 billion in emergency funds for relief efforts, to combat terrorism and strengthen national security after Tuesday’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“We will pass this bill as a first step, as a first commitment to confront tyranny, terrorism and despots,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville.
The Senate also gave President Bush authority to use military force against those responsible for the attacks, and the House was expected to follow suit Friday night. The legislation is more limited than a war powers resolution, but it lets the president decide whether to use military force without going back to get Congress’s permission.
There was no opposition to any of the measures. The House voted 422-0 and the Senate voted 96-0 to pass the emergency appropriations bill, while the Senate voted 98-0 for the military force resolution.
“It’s gratifying to see all of us come together and marshal the resources necessary to pick up the pieces,” said Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Kennedyville. “We stand ready to give the president every tool he needs to help America recover and to find the cowards who committed this horrible crime.”
The emergency funds are twice the amount that President Bush asked for. The bill allots $10 billion immediately for relief efforts and to repair damage from the explosions. It would also be available to combat terrorism and support tightened transportation and national security.
Another $10 billion will be available after the Office of Management and Budget gives Congress details of how the money would be used. The final $20 billion would be provided as needed from next year’s budget. Of the total, at least half would have to go to disaster recovery and assistance.
“This aid is for infrastructure and personnel to get the city back up and operating, and the Pentagon for that matter. But it does not include dollars for private sector, like insurance agencies and airlines,” said Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Timonium.
Ehrlich said the amount needed for relief efforts is not clear now, but that spending would monitored jointly by the White House and Congress.
“I think the number is irrelevant at this point. I think the president needs a blank check, whether it’s $20 billion or $40 billion at this point isn’t really a cause of concern,” he said.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, said he believes the emergency funding provides the resources needed to begin addressing the disasters and funding anti-terrorism efforts.
Sarbanes is also “very pleased with the strong support from the international community,” said aide Jesse Jacobs. “The response is changing the dynamic in which terrorists are going to be able to operate throughout the world.”
The emergency relief was just one of several measures rushed through Congress in the days since the attacks, including bills to speed benefits to the victims’ families.
On Thursday, the House voted to expedite relief to the families of public safety officers killed or injured in rescue efforts in New York and Washington. The legislation does not increase the amount of benefits to families, but speeds up the processing of payments that might otherwise be delayed by paperwork because of the large number of deaths.
The House also voted to provide tax relief to victims’ families, suspending taxes on Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance payments and airline compensation. The estates of the victims would also be exempt from estate taxes.
The House also passed a resolution urging Americans to fly the flag for the next 30 days as a symbol of unity and patriotism.