Senate Dems fault Bush over homeland security funds

As the House prepared to vote on the $397.4 billion fiscal 2003 omnibus bill Thursday afternoon, Senate Democrats launched an attack on the administration for refusing to work with Congress to appropriate more money for homeland security.

With the nation under a heightened alert for possible terrorist attack this week, Democrats, including Senate Appropriations Committee ranking member Robert Byrd of West Virginia, said the administration's response to homeland defense issues has so far been inadequate.

"This country is witnessing a massive farce," proclaimed Byrd. He said that while the administration is willing to spend the dollars necessary to wage a war with Iraq, it nevertheless "fails to protect the people at home in a war that means the most to us."

All together, Democrats said the omnibus bill cuts $4.5 billion in homeland security items from the 2003 spending bills written by the Senate Appropriations Committee last year. Those bills' totals were reduced over the past few weeks in order to stay within the president's spending limits.

As a result of those cuts, Democrats said the omnibus legislation eliminates $2.98 billion for first responders, which includes money for firefighting and police grants and for local emergency response centers. Another $170 million was cut from the Transportation Security Administration and another $46 million for port security, while the Immigration and Naturalization Service's border security budget was reduced by about $180 million, Democrats said.

"It takes more than duct tape to patch the gaps in homeland security," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., referencing the administration's much-publicized-and highly derided-emergency preparedness tips handed out earlier this week. Byrd, meanwhile, said the president continues to "show the back of his hand" to the American people and to Congress when it tries to beef up homeland funding, noting the administration's refusal to sign into law some $2.5 billion in emergency homeland dollars in last summer's supplemental.

Democrats said the administration should request the additional $4.5 billion in an upcoming fiscal 2003 supplemental bill that Congress is expected to receive and debate in March.

"The ink will not be dry on this [omnibus] appropriations bill, and we'll realize we need a supplemental for homeland security," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who said if there was not more money appropriated, there would be an "uprising" among local communities being asked to foot the bill for more security.