Senators seek larger role in first responder negotiations
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee leaders want seat in House-Senate talks on funding formula.
The top two senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee are asking Senate conferees negotiating the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act to force the House to drop its provision revamping the funding formula for first responders.
Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and ranking member Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said if the House insists on tackling the funding formula when conferees meet next week, then they should be allowed to take over negotiations on the issue. Collins and Lieberman are not conferees, and the Senate did not include a formula overhaul in its PATRIOT Act reauthorization.
House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who will lead House negotiators in the conference on the bill, indicated through a spokesman Wednesday that he remains a staunch defender of the House proposal to include a funding formula rewrite. The issue has pitted small states against larger ones for more than two years.
The 9/11 Commission has called on Congress to allocate 100 percent of the funding on the basis of risk and vulnerability, but lawmakers contend that proposal is not politically feasible. Collins and Lieberman want to lower the minimum guarantee for first-responder funding to 0.55 percent of available funds, with a sliding scale of up to 3 percent for larger states.
The House proposal would lower the minimum to 0.25 percent and 0.45 percent for certain border states. Each state now receives a minimum of 0.75 percent, so the changes could cost some state and local governments millions of dollars next year.
Under the Collins-Lieberman proposal, every state would be guaranteed at least $9 million out of $1.7 billion in funding for next year, whereas the House proposal would give each state at least $4 million. If neither side is successful on the issue, states would be guaranteed $7 million next year.
In July, the Senate voted 71-26 to include the Collins-Lieberman proposal in its version of the fiscal 2006 Homeland Security spending measure, but the provision ultimately was dropped from the conference report. House and Senate appropriators included language that would give Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff the discretion to allocate the majority of first-responder funds on the basis of risk and vulnerability.
New York lawmakers on Wednesday called on Chertoff to lobby conferees to change the formula so more emphasis is placed on risk.
The House agreed in July to attach its first-responder changes to a different vehicle -- the PATRIOT Act reauthorization -- after having overwhelmingly approved a month earlier, by a 409-10 margin, a standalone version of the changes. This has House negotiators arguing that their chamber has a firmer mandate on the issue, especially since the Senate version is silent on the issue.
"The House position is very clear," said Sensenbrenner's spokesman Wednesday. "The House is going to fight vigorously for this provision and expects it to be included in the final PATRIOT Act conference report."
House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King , R-N.Y., who shares jurisdiction with Collins on the issue, said conferees should not allow senators to conduct side negotiations on the grant structure. "The formula should stand on its own," said King, who added that he planned to push for the House proposal in the PATRIOT Act measure.
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