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House Democrats Square Off Against Republicans on Government Spending

Democrats in the U.S. Congress clashed sharply with Republicans over domestic spending priorities in the hours before President Bush is to deliver his annual State of the Union address.

With the president's address expected to focus on Iraq, the economy and homeland security, Democratic lawmakers were on the attack over what they call the administration's irresponsible budget priorities.

The House of Representatives spent the day considering a temporary spending bill required to keep the federal government running into next month, when a final budget is expected to pass.

Democrats accuse the administration and Republicans of failing to do enough to adequately fund homeland security.

Democratic lawmakers tried to add $3.5 billion in grants to the budget for police, fire and emergency workers who would respond first to potential terrorist attacks.

New Jersey Congressman Robert Menendez drew a contrast between the resources being prepared for a war in Iraq, and those devoted to homeland security. He said, "Those who responded on that fateful day, September 11 (2001), was not the federal government, was not the defense department, was not the federal emergency management. No! It was police officers, and firefighters, and (local) emergency management, and hospitals and public health systems, but we have done absolutely nothing about providing one red cent so that they can be prepared, God forbid, for the next attack."

However, Republicans objected, saying they favor more money for "first responders" but that it should be added later when the House considers regular spending bills for the current 2003 fiscal year.

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Republican Florida Congressman Bill Young said, "We're trying to create an argument where no argument really exists. We (Republicans) believe in homeland security, and first responders as strongly as anybody else. We have already proved that. We have taken the lead in that. President Bush has taken the lead in that," he said.

Using their majority, Republicans turned back Democratic attempts to add the funding to the temporary spending legislation, and the House eventually passed the resolution to keep the federal government running.

The Democratic response to President Bush's address is expected to focus on homeland security and the president's $674 billion plan to revive the economy. That response will be delivered by Washington state governor, Gary Locke.