Senate subcommittee adds $2.5 billion to DHS spending bill

Following the lead of its House counterpart, the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday boosted funding for the Homeland Security Department above President Bush's request, with popular state and local grant programs receiving hefty increases.

By voice vote, the subcommittee approved its version of the fiscal 2009 department spending bill, which would allocate $41.3 billion in discretionary spending -- about $2.5 billion more than Bush requested.

"With this bill, we provide the department with the resources it needs to cope with an evolving terrorist threat, to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws, and to respond to natural disasters," said Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who also is chairman of the subcommittee.

Senate Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., said he hoped appropriators could work with the White House to avoid a veto threat because of the added spending. "It's my expectation that the administration will raise that as a concern," he said.

The House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee approved its version of the spending bill last week, giving the department $39.9 billion in discretionary spending.

The Senate bill provides an increase of nearly $2 billion for state and local grant programs over what Bush sought. "Cutting such funding is not the solution to the terrorist threat that the Bush administration has identified, nor is it the solution to the failure to respond to natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina," Byrd said. "This mark seeks to reverse these dire cuts and fund DHS appropriately." Funding for most grant programs would be kept at the same level as in the enacted fiscal 2008 Homeland Security budget bill.

For example, $750 million would be allocated for firefighter assistance grants; $300 million for emergency management performance grants; $400 million for port security grants; and $400 million for rail and transit security grants. The House version would allocate slightly more for firefighter and emergency management grants. The Senate bill would allocate $890 million for state homeland security grants and $825 million for grants to high-risk urban areas. Both amounts are less than the House allocations.

On another front, the Senate bill would boost funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement more than either Bush requested or House appropriators allocated. The Senate bill would provide ICE about $5 billion, compared to about $4.8 billion allocated by the House appropriators. The Senate bill would give ICE $160 million to deport illegal immigrants after they are released from prison.

In other areas, the bill would withhold funding for the department to open an office that coordinates how federal, state and local governments access satellite imagery until the department certifies it will comply with privacy and civil liberties laws. The bill also allocates $318 million for the department's role in the administration's massive cyber-security program, which is about $25 million above the requested amount. And the bill gives the department $120 million in requested funds to begin construction of a new headquarters.

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