NEW YORK -- As Congress marked the approaching anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks with a rare ceremonial session just blocks from ground zero, New Yorkers thanked America for helping rebuild their battered city.
More than 300 House and Senate members attended Friday's session, only the second time Congress has met outside Washington since moving there in 1800.
Afterward, lawmakers sat down for lunch with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and then laid a wreath where the World Trade Center towers once stood and where some 2,800 people perished.
"New Yorkers recognize that we would not have made it through the darkest days in our city's history without our nation's help," Bloomberg told his guests, who dined on filet mignon at a hotel in lower Manhattan.
"Giving New Yorkers an opportunity to say thank you to our colleagues in the House means that we are saying thank you to America, too," said Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.
At the luncheon, also attended by victims' survivors and civic leaders, Bloomberg showed a video produced for the city in which ordinary New Yorkers are shown thanking America.
Congress has provided $20 billion in spending and tax breaks to help New York recover from the attacks, and created a victims' compensation fund likely to cost up to $6 billion.
In addition, Americans have contributed $2.4 billion to the nation's largest charities to help victims of the day hijacked planes were flown into the twin towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
"You stepped forward for New York and for America, helping families and helping this city recover and rebuild and to reclaim its destiny," New York Gov. George Pataki told the gathering. "On behalf of all New Yorkers, I'd like to say, 'Thank you."'
Later, lawmakers and their spouses gathered at the site of the collapsed towers for a ceremony honoring the dead. With a flute trilling, each planted a small American flag in baskets that stood under a wreath of white carnations and lillies.
Friday's events were among many scheduled with the approach of Wednesday's first anniversary of the attacks. President Bush plans to visit New York that day.
The 50-minute congressional meeting was a ceremonial session that featured speeches, poetry and music. Presiding were Vice President Dick Cheney, who is president of the Senate, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
The meeting was held in a tightly guarded Federal Hall. The 160-year-old marble and sandstone building stands where the first Congress met in 1789 and 1790, when New York was briefly the nation's capital.
Like many buildings near ground zero, Federal Hall has its own Sept. 11 story. Two windows blew out and some of its walls, floors and ceilings were cracked from the force of the towers' collapse. Yet it sheltered 250 people until dust cleared from the air in the shattered neighborhood.
Forty-eight senators and about 270 House members were in attendance, more than half of Congress' membership of 535.
During the meeting, America's poet laureate Billy Collins read his poem "The Names," which laments, "So many names, there is barely room on the walls of the heart."
Congress met in Philadelphia in 1987 on the 200th anniversary of the compromise at the Constitutional Convention that created the House and Senate.
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