Senate Dems unveil plan to boost homeland spending

Senate Democrats will try to raise the $4.2 billion in homeland security funding proposed by President Bush in his fiscal 2003 war supplemental appropriations bill to about $9 billion through a series of amendments that would boost resources for state and local first responders, ports, airports, nuclear facilities and for the administration of the smallpox vaccine.

Republican aides said chances were good that some of the amendments would prevail at a Senate Appropriations Committee markup scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and others have expressed support for boosting funds to first responders, but Collins said this afternoon it would be premature to do so in the supplemental right now, adding that she will hold hearings in her committee in the next few weeks.

Senate Democrats say not enough is being done to help fight the war against terrorism at home. "We don't need any more rhetoric. We don't need any more photo-ops. We need dollars," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., one of the main sponsors of a $4.3 billion amendment to ensure that firefighters, police and emergency medical personnel can meet new post-Sept. 11, 2001, challenges.

Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev., who is the key sponsor of a $400 million amendment to boost nuclear security, said he was "terribly disappointed" that nuclear risks have not been addressed. Senate Democrats also plan to offer an amendment by Senate Commerce ranking member Ernest (Fritz) Hollings, D-S.C., to boost port security by $1 billion, $600 million of which would be in the form of grants and $400 million would be for screening vessels for nuclear material.

Democratic amendments would also provide $2.9 billion for border and transportation security improvements and $340 million for smallpox vaccine administration. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., will also offer an amendment to boost chemical plant security, and there may be a handful of other amendments, including one to provide funds to bail out the airlines and help displaced airline workers.

But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, Tuesday dismissed Democratic criticism that the supplemental does not adequately fund homeland security. "They have no credibility," he told reporters. "They can criticize all they want, but they have no substance."

At a news conference with British Home Secretary David Blunkett, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge noted that states and localities would receive as much as $8 billion to $9 billion in financial support this year, if Congress acts in a timely fashion on White House proposals. "I think that's an enormous investment," Ridge said.