Fiscal battles loom over DHS grants, disaster assistance

The Obama administration's budget request for the Homeland Security Department will likely trigger a battle with Republicans in the coming months over how much to spend on politically popular grants and disaster assistance for communities across the country.

The fiscal 2012 budget request for DHS seeks about $43.2 billion in discretionary spending, which is about $300 million less than the department requested for the current fiscal year. The fiscal 2011 funding request was never approved by Congress.

But House Republicans are expected to complain that the administration is playing budget games by not fully accounting for disaster assistance needs. The fiscal 2012 budget requests about $1.8 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund.

Republicans contend the administration consistently underfunds the account. They say it needs about $3 billion for the current fiscal year. To that end, Republicans will likely try to take funding away from state and local homeland security grant programs to put toward disaster relief as the budget makes its way through Congress.

Grant programs are seen as one area of the budget where cuts can most easily be made in times of fiscal constraints. Indeed, the fiscal 2012 budget seeks about $3.8 billion for state and local grants, compared with about $4.6 billion that is being spent on those programs during the current fiscal year. Republicans want to cut more from those programs.

On other fronts, the fiscal 2012 budget would provide funding to pay for 21,370 Border Patrol agents and buy 275 more whole-body imaging machines to place at the nation's airports. It would also provide $459 million to support DHS cybersecurity activities, as well as $358 million to build six more Coast Guard fast response vessels and $130 million to construct two more maritime patrol aircraft.

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