Accessibility links

US Senate Nears Passage of Homeland Security Funding Bill - 2004-09-14

The U.S. Senate is nearing a vote on a homeland security funding bill for next year. Democrats say the measure does not go far enough in protecting domestic security.

The $32 billion measure would, among other things, boost air, rail and port security and fund terrorism response programs.

But in an election year when lawmakers on either side of the political aisle are seeking to portray themselves as stronger on domestic security, Democrats accused the Republican Bush administration of not adequately funding the homeland security budget.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia is the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

"The president campaigns on being the best candidate to protect this nation. Yet each and every budget that he sends to Capitol Hill shortchanges the safety and security of ...whom? You guessed it, the American people," he said.

Democrats argue that the bill does not go far enough in funding so-called first responders, state and local emergency personnel including fire fighters and law enforcement officials, who would be the first on the scene of a terrorist attack.

But the manager of the bill, Senator Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican, argues otherwise.

"Today our first responders, those who work at the fire departments, the police departments, the emergency medical centers, have been provided with resources from the federal government to buy necessary equipment, to increase training, to better protect our communities throughout the country," said Mr. Cochran.

A series of amendments sponsored by Democrats aimed at boosting homeland security funding were voted down by majority Republicans, who suggested that providing money beyond what the administration sought would be wasteful.

Among those amendments approved by the Senate is one that would block homeland security contracts from going to U.S. companies headquartered offshore. Supporters argued such firms use their offshore status to reduce U.S. tax bills, giving them an unfair advantage over companies based in the United States.

The House of Representatives has passed its own homeland security funding bill for the next budget year beginning October 1.

Negotiators for the House and Senate will have to reconcile differences in the two versions of the legislation before sending a final bill to President Bush for his signature.

As the Senate debated the measure Tuesday, Democrats released a report assessing the status of homeland security since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

The report said there remain deficiencies in rail, truck, and port security, as well as nuclear power plants and immigration.

Senator Charles Schumer is a New York Democrat.

"Have we made some progress? Definitely. Are we close to where we should be? No," said Mr. Schumer.

The report gives the federal government an average rating in overall homeland security preparedness, with above average scores for bioterrorism preparedness and air security. The report gave a failing grade to security at chemical plants.