Byrd criticizes Bush over first responder funds

Senate Appropriations ranking member Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., fired back at the White House Tuesday after President Bush criticized Congress Monday for hamstringing $3.5 billion in "first responders" money by tying it to already existing grant programs.

In a letter to Bush, Byrd defended as "responsible" the decision to channel first responders money through existing state and local grant programs "rather than launch a new untested program." Instead, Byrd said it was the Bush administration that had failed to yield to calls by governors and others about the need for more homeland security money, vetoing some $2.5 billion in last summer's supplemental bill while using "strong-arm tactics" to defeat various amendments to the fiscal 2003 omnibus bill to boost homeland funding.

"The enemy is not Congress, Mr. President. The enemy is the terrorist who stands ready to exploit the nation's many security gaps," Byrd wrote.

Meanwhile, an analysis by the Senate Budget Committee shows that, given the passage of the recent fiscal 2003 omnibus appropriations bill, discretionary budget authority in fiscal 2003-approximately $763.2 billion-will be about 6.2 percent higher than fiscal 2002, with a 9.1 percent increase in defense activities but just a 3.4 percent increase in non-defense items.

Those percentages are based on a fiscal 2002 discretionary total of about $718.4 billion, which omits some $15.9 billion in one-time-only expenses appropriated in various post-Sept. 11 supplemental appropriations bills. The analysis also said the $397.4 billion omnibus, signed into law by President Bush last week, "appears to have met" the administration's spending limits-defined as a discretionary total of $385.9 billion specified by OMB Director Mitch Daniels in early February, plus another $10 billion in requested defense money, an agreement to spend $1.5 billion for election reform and a savings of $500 million from USDA's Export Enhancement Program.

In addition, the committee said some $4.3 billion in mandatory spending increases in the omnibus would cost a net $50.5 billion over the fiscal 2004-13 budget window, most of that the result of a $52.8 billion increase in additional Medicare payments to physicians.