President Bush is proposing a dramatic increase in the amount of money the United States government spends to prepare for, and prevent, terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Mr. Bush wants to nearly double the homeland security budget.
The president says his 2003 budget will include nearly $38 billion to protect the American people from further terrorist attacks. "It's the beginning of a homeland defense initiative, which is going to last throughout my administration," he said. "It's the beginning of a cooperative effort."
Mr. Bush made the announcement before a receptive group. The nation's mayors, already in Washington for a regularly scheduled conference, were invited to the White House for the occasion.
They have been urging the federal government to help ease the financial burden facing cities and towns in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and the Washington area. Of particular concern to these local leaders is the high cost of providing enhanced police and emergency services.
The president said he heard their message. He said his budget request would provide $3.5 billion to hire, train and equip state and local police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians. He said that's a 1,000 percent increase over current funding levels.
"It shows and recognizes that the first minutes or hours after an attack, are the most hopeful minutes for saving lives," he said. "The first minutes. Immediately. And therefore, we have got to understand and remember the important role of 'first responders.'"
To illustrate his point, the president recalled one of the stories he heard about the rescue workers who put their lives at risk on September 11, a story that left a strong impact.
"Some going into the danger wrote their Social Security numbers [government identification numbers] on their arms," he said. "It reminds all of us about how dangerous the job is. And about how some are willing to sacrifice for others."
President Bush acknowledged that despite the progress of recent weeks and months, America still faces a terrorist threat. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would coordinate terror response efforts with local officials. And he urged the mayors to work with the federal government.
"There is no question in my mind that, given the right impetus and the right focus, the right communications and the right money, we can make it work," he said. "We have no choice."
Although the focus of his speech was funding for emergency services and law enforcement, the president's budget request for homeland defense is far broader. Aides say it also includes money to enhance airport security, combat bio-terrorism, and secure the nation's borders.