The House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved nearly $30 billion in spending aimed at strengthening the nation's defenses against terrorist attacks. The vote was 425-2. Major portions of the funding are directed at helping local officials in cities and states respond to potential new terrorist attacks.
This is the first regular annual appropriation for homeland security since Congress created a massive new federal department to coordinate government efforts against terrorist threats.
Majority Republicans, and opposition Democrats, supported the overall bill which includes more money for the department, and its Transportation Security Administration (TSA), created after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The legislation provides nearly $30 billion for the 2004 fiscal year, an increase of $500 million over 2003, and $1 billion more than what President George W. Bush requested.
This includes more for state and local law enforcement officials, emergency medical personnel, and firefighters known as "first responders." It provides $400 million over President Bush's original request to protect U.S. borders.
But Democrats say Republicans are standing in the way of even more funding that is urgently needed by local emergency "responders" as well as the Coast Guard to protect against threats at major ports.
Wisconsin Congressman David Obey proposed adding an additional $1 billion to the bill. He and Texas Democrat Martin Frost spoke on the House floor. "This bill is woefully inadequate in terms of meeting the security interests and needs of the United States," Mr. Obey said.
"As it stands, the base bill does not address major holes in homeland defense," Mr. Frost added.
Mr. Obey's proposed amendment, which he said should be paid for by reducing tax cuts for wealthy Americans, was blocked by House procedural rules.
Harold Rogers of Kentucky, who managed the homeland security legislation for the Republicans, responded to Democratic charges it does not sufficiently fund homeland security:
"Let there be no mistake. We are adequately funding our nation's homeland security needs. And any comments to the contrary is political opportunism," he said.
House majority leader Tom DeLay said the vote came down to a matter of public trust in how President Bush and Republicans are managing the expenditure of money for homeland security.
"Do we trust President Bush and his team to set homeland security policy, or do we think it should be set by the same members of Congress who voted against the establishment of the homeland security department in the first place," he said.
The legislation also includes money to develop medical counter-measures to biological terrorism, as well as to fund new technology to deal with threats from nuclear and chemical attacks.
It provides funds to support targeted inspections at ports of entry, and provides money for research, development and testing of anti-missile devices to protect passenger aircraft.
The Senate is still working on its version of the homeland security appropriations bill, one of a number of spending measures Congress is working to pass in coming weeks.