Democrats call for $14B homeland security spending boost

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday called for the White House to spend an additional $14 billion on homeland security; half of which would be designated for "first responders" to emergencies.

The president's current budget proposal is the "clearest evidence" that security is not a priority for the White House, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said during a joint press conference Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Last week Turner unveiled a 135-page assessment of how the Homeland Security Department has done since its inception one year ago. On Tuesday, Lieberman said the department has done "extraordinary work" and added that he is "confident that our nation is a safer place" than before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Americans are still "not as safe as we should be," he said.

"The Bush administration has failed to provide the focused vision, leadership and funding [an undertaking] of this magnitude requires," Lieberman said. He criticized the administration for focusing too much of its efforts on battling terrorism overseas, leaving Americans vulnerable to "attacks by an amorphous terrorist enemy."

Of the 90 recommendations given by the congressmen, Turner pointed to port and cargo security as one of the more troubling issues. "The technology and funding exist to screen cargo today, yet the job remains undone," he said. "We should deploy radiation screening portals to every American port of entry as soon as possible."

A condensed "top 10" list of the document released by Lieberman also cited port security, bioterrorism, lackluster information sharing, hobbled intelligence capabilities and aviation security as major concerns.

The Transportation Security Administration "does not yet have a systematic way to test whether passengers themselves are carrying explosives on board [airplanes]," Lieberman said. "A program to test passengers for explosives must be accelerated off the drawing boards and [put] into airport lobbies."

The senator also criticized Bush for placing the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) within the CIA rather than Homeland Security, a move that he said means it "lacks the structure and support to be the pre-eminent fusion center envisioned by the Homeland Security Act."

Turner agreed. "On land, there is still not a unified terrorist watch list that can help our agents stop all suspected terrorists at the border," he said.

Earlier in the day, Turner called for immediate hearings on the watch-list topic, calling the "repeated delays and excuses" from the department and FBI "unacceptable."

Liz Tobias, a spokeswoman for House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox, said the panel has been in talks with the Judiciary Committee for a joint hearing on terrorist screening, a subject that is "an important part of our homeland security mission," she said.