Democrats launch homeland security task force

Hoping to raise the party's profile on the issue of homeland security, House Democratic leaders have tapped Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York to lead a Democratic Caucus task force to promote their policy objectives and to challenge the Bush administration's commitment to adequate funding.

Maloney, whose district includes parts of east Manhattan and western Queens, represents constituents who were directly affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. Democratic Caucus Chairman Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who made the appointment before the Memorial Day recess, chose Maloney in part because of her experience in leading the Democratic push for using sampling in the 2000 decennial census.

"If anyone can get through to the public on this issue, Carolyn Maloney can," one Democratic aide said. "We expect and hope that she will be as vocal and as successful on her leadership on this issue."

On the census issue, which Democrats ultimately lost, Maloney waded frequently into census politics, pushing congressional Republicans for funding for sampling and working with outside groups to build support for the controversial method. A spokesman said Maloney plans to take a "constructive and bipartisan" approach to homeland security, but added this does not mean Democrats would back off their efforts to win more homeland security funding from President Bush and Republicans.

The spokesman said New York City "is only getting pennies on the dollar" from the federal government and noted estimates that show the city must spend an additional $13 million each week for security since Sept. 11. "We can't just be talking about security. You've got to be funding it," he said.

As chairwoman of the Democratic task force, Maloney is expected to take a much more aggressive approach to the issue than Homeland Security ranking member Jim Turner, D-Texas, who has a reputation for bipartisanship. An aide said Turner would work closely with Maloney on the task force, but said, "His priority is securing the nation and not getting into the political machinations."

Democrats have already pressed Bush for more funding for first responders, and several Democratic aides said Democrats are intent on making the public aware of the party's work on the issue.

Serving as task force vice chairmen are Democratic Reps. Eliot Engel of New York, and Chris Bell and Silvestre Reyes of Texas. An Engel aide said the lawmaker planned to pursue telecommunications and evacuation issues. A Bell aide said port security in Houston is a priority for him.