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Congress working on resolution authorizing force

Gephardt: "This is war ..."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congressional leaders worked late into Wednesday night on a resolution authorizing the use of force in response to Tuesday's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Legislators are hoping for a resolution similar to the one crafted in 1991, which authorized the use of force against Iraq prior to the Gulf War.

Some Democrats have raised concerns that the final statement not resemble the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, which critics say essentially gave President Lyndon Johnson a blank check for the Vietnam War.

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A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said: "Whether we come up with a solution or not is an open question. Members on both sides of the aisle are wanting to be careful about things we write here."

Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, called the measure being considered "a resolution of resolve" and said the meetings came at the White House's request.

A spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, said he hopes to work out the resolution's wording in a meeting with Democrats and White House officials Thursday morning.

Earlier Wednesday, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said that Congress will move quickly to appropriate $20 billion for the White House to spend on rescue, repairs and counterterrorism efforts after the attacks on Washington and New York.

Rep. Bill Young, R-Florida, said lawmakers hope to have the spending bill on President Bush's desk by Thursday afternoon. The legislation would require the money be spent in certain categories but give the Bush administration broad discretion on spending in these groups.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said the bill was Congress' "top priority."

Hours earlier, Gephardt told the House: "This is war. And we will do everything in our power together to make sure that terrorists never, ever again can create this mayhem, this chaos, this violence against our people and our country."

The $20 billion appropriation would go to pay for federal, state and local agencies responding to the ongoing crisis; to counter, investigate and prosecute domestic and international terrorism; to increase transit security; to repair public facilities and transit; and to support national security.

Young called the bill "punch No. 1 of a two-punch program." The second punch, he said, will come with next year's national security appropriations.

Negotiators from both parties spent several hours Wednesday discussing an exact amount for the emergency spending bill and details on how the money can be spent.

Meanwhile, lawmakers presented a united front, with many urging a swift and strong response to the attacks. The Senate and House took up a joint resolution to condemn the actions, express condolences to victims' families and loved ones and declare Wednesday a national day of mourning.

"The world should know that the members of both parties, in both houses, stand united in this: The full resources of our government will be brought to bear in aiding the search and rescue, and in hunting down those responsible and those who have aided or harbored them," said Senate Majority Leader Daschle.

"I say to our enemies: We are coming," said Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona. "God may have mercy on you, but we won't."

One by one, members in both houses spoke out on the floor in a series of speeches that frequently rang with emotion and bitterness. The partisan clashes that so often resound in the halls of the Capitol were put aside, and representatives solemnly pledged unity with each other and with the White House to defend the nation.

There was a widespread determination that those responsible for "the worst attack in the beloved history of America" -- in Gephardt's words -- would pay the price for their actions.

Some lawmakers singled out Osama bin Laden, the billionaire Saudi fugitive accused of past acts of terrorism against the United States, and whom federal officials believe may be responsible for Tuesday's horrifying sequence of events.

Lawmakers also pointed fingers at the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which has shielded bin Laden within its borders.

"Bin Laden is at war with the United States, and it is time that we reciprocated," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who added: "We have the capacity, we have the capability, the military strength to do what is necessary."

Many members of Congress ended Wednesday by participating in a prayer vigil in the Capitol rotunda to remember victims of the attacks.

"We stand together tonight not as Democrats or Republicans but as citizens of the world, as Americans, as brothers and sisters with pain and with hurt," said Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia. "We are a circle of trust that cannot be broken. We are one people. We are one family. We are one nation."

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