Lawmaker says homeland security funding inadequate

House Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis., blistered the Bush administration Wednesday for what he said was overly politicizing the debate on the Homeland Security Department, while paying only lip service to funding homeland security agencies.

While the administration engaged in a "tedious debate over the structure of our bureaucracy activities critical to blocking terrorist actions continue to hobble along with resources that in many instances are only negligibly greater than the levels available before [September 11, 2001]," Obey said. "And in almost all instances, those resources are totally inadequate for the tasks at hand."

In a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, Obey said the administration has had a "bad case of the slows" in realizing the need for more homeland dollars, and pointed to their refusal to appropriate billions for those concerns in the final two fiscal 2002 supplemental spending bills. Saying more needs to be done for the CIA, FBI, port security and first responders, Obey said the administration refused to spend more on homeland security because its "number one priority … is to preserve as much room in their budget for the tax cuts they passed a year ago."

Obey said another $8 billion to $10 billion "could plug the holes" in unfinished fiscal 2003 spending bills, but noted that House and Senate appropriators, looking to live within the budget outlines laid out by President Bush, are busy cutting at least $10 billion from the appropriations measures.

"There is going to be very little opening" to add funds in fiscal 2003, Obey said. "All we can do is wait out the problem."

Obey also said it would be hard to move the 11 unsigned bills through Congress by the end of January, as Republicans want, citing the difficulty of finding where to cut and the current confusion over who will lead Senate Republicans. "It will be very difficult to meet the timetable," Obey said.

He also complained that the process for moving the bills leaves the House without the ability to offer any spending alternatives. Current thinking is that when Congress returns in January, the House will pass two continuing resolutions -- one, which would be passed "as is" by the Senate, would keep the government running past Jan. 10, while the other would serve as a placeholder that can be amended in the Senate to include the 11 unfinished appropriations bills. That would then be negotiated with the House, and then both chambers would take an up-or-down vote on the final version of the fiscal 2003 bills, even though the bulk of them were never brought to the House floor.

"The House will never get an opportunity to vote on any of these items," Obey said.