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GETTING BACK TO WORK

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 put a halt to regular business, and Congress was no exception. Its agenda, expected to be picked up following the August recess, was altered. Items that were the focus of political debate were put on hold.

In urging the rest of the nation to get back to normal, though, Congress can't ignore its own routine. While priorities rightly remain with recovery, there are several measures in need of prompt attention.

The House-Senate conference committee meeting on bankruptcy set for Sept. 12 was postponed. This issue had many Americans on edge, with House and Senate bills designed to force more bankruptcy filers to repay debts.

The House also postponed work on its version of Senate-passed brownfields legislation to encourage the cleanup of hazardous Superfund sites and less-contaminated brownfields sites. In this area, such a measure is a key step in luring new businesses and new jobs to the city.

The attacks also delayed action on a comprehensive energy bill, which seems to have taken on greater significance in the aftermath of the attacks. The debate over drilling for oil and gas in Alaska, in particular, may be impacted.

The $171 billion farm bill has less of a chance in the face of defense, intelligence and counterterrorism measures. The House Agriculture Committee had its farm bill ready for the week of Sept. 10. The Senate panel was still in the early drafting stages and had not yet introduced a bill.

The terrorist attacks changed the tenor of the bill for fiscal 2002 appropriations for the Labor and Health and Human Services departments, all but removing the focus. There may not be a separate bill, if Congress accepts a proposal by House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, to continue spending at last year's levels.

Congress has not taken any action on trade promotion authority, which would grant the president the power to negotiate trade pacts that Congress would have to accept or reject quickly, and without amendment. However, given the current climate, an item on free trade may not garner much support.

Understandably, Americans have been altered by the horrific attacks against this nation. The nation was, and remains, saddened, and measures needed for a new war against terrorism still should top the new agenda. But there comes a day when it's necessary to return to normal business as well -- and for Congress, that time has come.

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