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Democrats Criticize Bush on Homeland Security - 2003-03-09

The Democratic Party is criticizing President George W. Bush and Republican Party lawmakers for allegedly failing to adequately fund programs to defend the homeland.

The Democrats are attempting to put a dent in Mr. Bush's high public approval rating for his handling of the war on terror. Some Democrats say the Bush administration should devote more attention to homeland defense than a possible war on Iraq.

In Saturday's Democratic Party radio address, California Governor Gray Davis said more money is needed for so-called first responders to a terrorist attack: firefighters, police officers, medical personnel and rescue teams.

"We agree with the president that, in order to be strong abroad, we must be strong at home. But what his administration does not tell you is that the burden for homeland security is borne primarily by states and local governments. For all the tough talk coming out of Washington these days, this administration and the Republican leadership in Congress have thus far stuck us with the bill. Last year, the president promised $3.5 billion for first responders. To date, we have received only a tiny fraction of that," Mr. Davis said.

Mr. Bush has responded to such criticism by calling for a boost in spending on homeland defense. He also has taken issue with members of his own party in Congress for cutting his 2003 budget request for homeland security. Late last week, the newly created Homeland Security Department announced that it would make more than $550 million in grant money available to states to help cover the costs of anti-terrorism efforts.

At the recent launching of the Homeland Security Department, President Bush spoke about funding first responders. The Homeland Security Department will be responsible for guarding the nation's borders, preventing terrorist attacks, and responding to any that occur.

"I will continue to do everything in my power to direct as much of this funding as possible toward training and equipping police, firefighters, and EMTs [emergency medical technicians] to prepare and respond to potential terrorist attacks," Mr. Bush said.

The president pledged to do everything possible to improve homeland security.

"In this vast and free nation, there is no such thing as perfect security. No such thing as a 100 percent guarantee that we are protected against the hidden network of cold-blooded killers. Yet, we are determined to do everything in our power to defeat this enemy and to defend our people, while upholding the great Constitution of the United States of America," Mr. Bush said.

But many Democrats remain unimpressed by the president's efforts.

At a Senate hearing last week, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, questioned the Bush administration's focus on Iraq. "We can find billions and billions, and billions and billions of dollars to give to countries around the world, if they would just say they will support us in a war against Iraq. We have a war here at home, and we ought to be able to find just as many billions of dollars to help the people, those Americans, who are fighting it," Mr. Leahy said.

The political battle over homeland security funding will be played out in the coming months, during the debate over the federal government's budget for fiscal year 2004.