White House endorses Homeland Security spending bill

The White House Tuesday released a Statement of Administration Policy supporting passage of the fiscal 2004 Homeland Security appropriations bill as reported out by House committee.

The SAP lists several concerns, however, noting that the bill costs $1 billion more than proposed by the Bush administration. But it does not specifically demand that the legislation be trimmed, pointing instead to the need to maintain overall fiscal discipline.

"The administration applauds the committee for reporting this important bill in a timely manner and looks forward to working with Congress to ensure that the fiscal 2004 appropriations bills ultimately fit within the top line funding level agreed to by both the administration and the Congress," the SAP stated.

It also said that first responder programs should be better coordinated and consolidated; that the U.S. VISIT border security system should be funded at President Bush's requested level and placed within the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection; and that the headquarters facility project should be fully funded. The SAP objected to provisions that "would purport to require committee approval before executive branch execution," saying only notification of administration action is required.

But Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., and Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., Tuesday charged in their dissenting views on the bill that, without adequate information from the Homeland Security Department, "many of the windows of opportunity for terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda are as nearly as widely open today as they were a year and a half ago, and we seem to be stalled in terms of putting in place a program that will close those windows."

Although rejected by the Rules Committee, Obey will try to offer his amendment during today's debate to redirect $1 billion from the recently passed tax cut-taking the money only from the cut that taxpayers making more than $1 million would receive-to beef up homeland security spending.

Obey's amendment, which was defeated in subcommittee and full committee, would provide additional funds for port security, border security, airport security, maritime security and infrastructure security. But Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., defended the bill by saying: "I'm simply not interested in throwing money at a problem ... We need to spend our money smartly. Let there be no mistake, we are adequately funding homeland security and any comments to the contrary are just political opportunism."

At presstime, House Democrats failed to get included in the debate two amendments by Texas Democratic Reps. Chet Edwards and Sheila Jackson Lee, to block the department from using its resources for activities unrelated to homeland security. The amendments stem from a redistricting fight in which Texas Democratic state legislators blocked action on a new congressional redistricting plan by fleeing to Oklahoma to deny the state House a quorum. During that incident, the Homeland Security Department was asked to find a plane being flown by one of those Democratic legislators.

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