U.S. Senate Democrats are accusing the Bush administration of shortchanging homeland security amid warnings of possible new hijackings. But President Bush is defending efforts to protect Americans' security.
Democrats reacted angrily to media reports Wednesday that the Department of Homeland Security was planning to reduce the number of air marshals on flights as a way to save money.
Thousands of air marshals have been deployed on U.S. airlines since the September 11, 2001 hijacking attacks on the United States.
The decision by the Homeland Security Department, which is dealing with a $900 million budget shortfall, comes a few months after the agency said it would cut 11 percent of its airport screeners to meet spending limitations demanded by Congress.
Just days after the department warned that the al-Qaida terrorist network is planning new suicide hijackings in the United States or abroad, Senate Democrats demanded the administration look elsewhere to save money, not at homeland security.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California, said "You cannot protect the country on the cheap."
Senator Charles Schumer of New York agreed, saying "We need more dollars. You cannot do the job with the amount of dollars that have been given."
In a speech in Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said all the nation's air marshals are being deployed. A spokesperson for the department denied there were any plans to cut back on the number of air marshals.
At a news conference, President Bush said there is a threat of new attacks by al-Qaida, which the United States says was behind the September 11 attacks.
But he defended his administration's efforts on homeland security. "We're talking to foreign governments and foreign airlines to indicate to them the reality of the threat. We're conscious of folks flying, getting lists of people flying into our country and matching them now with a much improved database," he said. "International flights coming into America must have hardened cockpit doors, which is a positive development."
He also said efforts were being made to diligently screen baggage.