Few issues besides attacks will see action from Congress
WASHINGTON -- Unemployment benefits. Immigration restrictions. Diverting money from missile defense.
These are among the Missouri delegation's priorities as Congress wraps up work for the year. While the issues vary widely, they share one unifying purpose: Responding to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Few other measures will see action before next month, when lawmakers hope to adjourn. Among these are the 13 annual spending bills for fiscal 2002, which began Oct. 1.
Congress has not yet cleared one of these appropriations measures -- and action ground to a halt last week amid the anthrax scare, with the House in recess and the Senate in session but with all Capitol Hill office buildings closed.
Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., helped convince Senate colleagues to work Thursday and said the early House exit had set Congress back a week.
"I said, 'Look, how we respond to this is going to set a pattern for the rest of the country," Bond said. "The receipt of one anthrax letter does not warrant shutting down six buildings."
Attack-related legislation is claiming the lion's share of attention. Among them is the attempt to bolster airline and airport security.
In the House, Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican leader and ally of President Bush who helped shepherd the $15 billion airline bailout, is with the White House in opposing Senate legislation turning over airline and airport security to the federal government.
The Senate recently voted to "federalize" the jobs of airport security screeners, something Bush opposes because he says civil service rules could prevent managers from firing bad workers. Blunt and Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas, the House's third-ranking Republican, are pushing instead for legislation that would boost federal supervision of screeners.
On another front, Bond is working to tighten immigration rules covering how visas are issued and tracked. Many of those arrested in the attacks had violated immigration rules.
"This nation has now seen the terrible dangers associated with failing to enforce visa deadlines," Bond said.
Also backed by Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, the measure would require intelligence and law enforcement agencies to share information with the State Department and Immigration and Naturalization Service as a way of weeding out potentially dangerous visa applicants.
And schools -- including flight schools -- would have to inform the Immigration and Naturalization Service if student visa holders failed to report within 30 days after classes begin.