House panel OKs $44B Homeland Security spending bill

A House panel on Thursday approved a $44 billion fiscal 2011 spending bill for the Homeland Security Department while rejecting a controversial proposal by the Obama administration to spend $200 million to bring terrorist suspects to New York City for criminal trials.

The bill, which the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved by voice vote, also would restore fiscal 2011 budget cuts the administration made to Coast Guard personnel and operations accounts.

Overall, the administration had requested $43.6 billion for Homeland Security next fiscal year.

"Within the past year, our nation has witnessed a substantial increase in attempts to attack our country, both by home-grown terrorists and individuals from outside our borders," Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman David Price, D-N.C., said.

The spending bill is largely uncontroversial but Democrats and Republicans clashed during Thursday's markup over two issues: the process for advancing fiscal 2011 appropriations bills and whether terrorism suspects held at the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, can be transferred to the United States.

Republicans said they suspect House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., is going to bypass regular order in bringing appropriations bills to the full committee and then the House floor.

"It's simply astounding to me the incredible lengths to which our chairman and the Democrat leadership have gone to circumvent the traditional appropriations process while continuing to spend at historic and unprecedented levels," Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said. "This is further evidence of the disconnect between the liberal majority and our constituents who are literally screaming at Washington to reduce spending and put Uncle Sam on a diet."

Obey fired back, telling Lewis: "I'd suggest that what he's astounded by are the reaches of his own imagination."

"We have spent the last year and half trying to dig out from the wreckage left to us by the last crew that ran this Congress and ran this administration," Obey added.

He said it is his intent to bring the DHS spending bill to the full committee for a markup and then to the House floor. Obey said he hopes to hold full committee markups for all the fiscal 2011 spending bills, but warned that it depends on the level of cooperation between House Republicans and Democrats, as well as with the Senate, which he called a non-functioning partner.

He noted that the Homeland Security bill was put together by Price, his staff and with input from Republicans.

Obey's comments came as Democrats continue to struggle to pass budget legislation setting the discretionary spending for fiscal 2011, which has delayed action on the 12 annual appropriations bills. The DHS spending bill is the first fiscal 2011 measure to clear an Appropriations subcommittee this year.

During the markup, Republicans attacked Democrats over the issue of bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States. While the bill rejected the administration's effort to bring terrorism suspects to New York City, it would have allowed the transfer of suspects to the United States for criminal trials.

Republicans offered an amendment prohibiting suspects from being brought to the United States for any reason and demanded a roll-call vote. Perhaps sensing that a vote would put some Democrats on the spot politically, Price offered to accept the amendment without a vote.

But Lewis demanded a vote, and the amendment was adopted 10-5. Obey called the amendment "a blatant" political stunt. Price observed that the language will be subject to revision as the bill progresses through Congress.

Overall, the bill largely funds the main Homeland Security agencies at levels sought by the administration. It would provide about $9.8 billion for Customs and Border Protection; $8 billion for the Transportation Security Administration; and $5.6 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

But the bill provides about $10.2 billion for the Coast Guard, compared to $9.9 billion sought by the administration.

"To ensure that prevention and response capacity remains robust, the bill restores cuts to Coast Guard personnel, rejects the decommissioning of two High Endurance Cutters, and keeps five HH-65 helicopters from being retired," Price said. "It also provides $38.5 million above the request to enhance the Coast Guard's oil rig inspection and spill response capacity, and to develop advanced oil spill control and cleanup technologies."

Notably, the bill restores $20 million for New York City's Securing the Cities program. The administration did not request any funding for the program, which is intended to detect terrorist threats involving nuclear or radioactive materials.

Humberto Sanchez contributed to this report.

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