Accessibility links

Breaking News

London Bombings Overshadow Senate Debate on Homeland Security Funding

The U.S. Senate has opened debate on the Homeland Security Department's budget for next year. Just days after the deadly mass transit bombings in London, Democrats are calling for more funding for rail security.

Democrats are angry that the Republican-led Senate Appropriations Committee last month voted to cut rail and transit security grants to state and local governments by $50 million, down to $100 million.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of the homeland security bill in May that would maintain the funding at the current level of $150 million.

Senate Democrats also say funding for so-called first responders, including police and firefighters who are the first to respond to terrorist attacks, is inadequate in the Senate bill.

Warning that bombings similar to the London transit system attack could happen on U.S. soil, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, urged his colleagues to restore cuts in rail security and first responder funding.

"While the threat we face is massive, and it is clear, our response to dealing with it is tepid and unfocused. It will take a commitment of energy, imagination, and yes, more funding, to better secure our homeland," Mr. Byrd says.

Democrats note that the aviation industry has received about $18 billion in federal funding since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks while ground transit agencies have received about $250 million.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, plans to offer an amendment that would increase funding for rail and transit security to $200 million.

But Republicans argue the best way to protect homeland security is by pre-empting attacks.

Senator Judd Gregg is a New Hampshire Republican. He says, ""Yes, we can have more bomb dogs and have more surveillance systems, and we should do that. But as a practical matter, the way you protect your mass transit systems, is the same way you protect other infrastructure systems, it is through aggressive and robust intelligence. The best place to get intelligence quite honestly is where these breeding grounds occur of these terrorists, Iraq and Afghanistan. So that war in Iraq and Afghanistan is, as the President has pointed out a number of times, taking the war to them to find them before they can find us."

But Democrats insist that fighting terrorism must be done on two fronts. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate's top Democrat.

"We spend more in Iraq in a single month than we spend on first responders all year. Failure in Iraq is not an option, and we will continue to support our troops, but we must do more to support the war on terror here at home," he says.

The homeland security bill would, among other things, enhance border protection, immigration enforcement, and air cargo security. A vote on the overall legislation could come as early as this week.

Late Monday, the Senate passed a resolution condemning the London bombings and expressing solidarity with the British people.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee says, "On behalf of the United States Senate and the American people, we express our heartfelt condolences to the victims, their families and the British people, our cousins across the Atlantic."

In the House of Representatives, the Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors to discuss the bombings.