Congress taking its cues from the President

As the Bush administration makes preparations for what officials call a war on terrorism, House and Senate leaders are focusing on where Congress can make an immediate legislative impact.

Meanwhile, leaders may seek to clear nagging budget issues off the table to free Congress to respond directly to the terrorist attacks and expedite Congress' adjournment.

New legislative proposals have proliferated since last Tuesday's attacks, ranging from relief for key industries to an economic stimulus package.

"In a situation like this, we have to take our cues from the administration," said a Senate GOP aide, who said the administration would assess the situation and propose an appropriate response. "Nobody in the Senate is ruling anything in or anything out . The House is not the President. The House cannot make these decisions unilaterally."

The aide also said the Senate would take a "comprehensive" approach with guidance from the administration, but that an economic stimulus and relief bill for the insurance and tourism industry would be considered along with infrastructure needs.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said, "the priority here of course in the short term is going to be things that help out military preparedness." Congress also is expected to focus on a number of issues ranging from domestic security issues to intelligence gathering procedures, such as recruitment of foreign agents and the ethics of assassinations. With so much to do, congressional leaders are searching for ways to speed up the appropriations process.

"There's a general realization that they're not going to pass every appropriations bill individually by September 30th," one Democratic aide said. There have been early discussions of an omnibus appropriations bill, as well as moving forward plans for adjournment, which had been moved back to later in the year before the attacks.

"The thinking is that they need to get their work done sooner rather than later," said the Democratic aide, who said members would try to "get their work done, and for a variety of reasons, get out of here."

The Senate aide said: "In a situation like this, it is the administration's strong desire that will rule the day. Do they need us in for three months, or would they like us out in 30 days?"

The aide said one advantage to the administration of an early departure: "You don't have 535 secretaries of State. You don't have 535 secretaries of Defense. You don't have 535 opinions about how best to proceed."