- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

The House yesterday passed, on a 425-2 vote, a bill that will spend $29.4 billion for the Department of Homeland Security, while Democrats complained that the amount fell “dangerously short” of protecting the nation from terrorist attacks.

Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, lauded the “largest reorganization of the federal government in 50 years” and insisted that the government was doing all it could to fight terrorism.

“There is no doubt that America is more safe today than it was on Sept. 10, 2001,” Mr. Rogers said, noting that the bill spends $1 billion more than President Bush has requested in his 2004 budget. Despite that spending increase, the White House has backed the House bill, saying it “largely tracks the administration’s request.”

The bill is the first of 13 appropriations bills to reach the floor this year. It raises to $73.3 billion what the federal government has allocated to the Department of Homeland Security since last year.

The only lawmakers who voted against it were Republican Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ron Paul of Texas.

“Today we have taken a vital step in protecting America from terrorism by giving the president the necessary funds for the Department of Homeland Security,” said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, in a statement after the vote.

Democrats complained during floor debate that the Republican bill did not spend enough money for “first responders” to sites of terrorist attacks and shortchanged efforts to secure the country’s borders, ports, airports and vulnerable modes of public transport.

An amendment offered by Rep. David R. Obey, Wisconsin Democrat and ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, would have increased the bill’s price tag by $1 billion to fill what he saw as a shortfall in funding for such areas.

The amendment would have been paid for by reducing the amount of the 2004 tax cut for those who earn $1 million a year or more from $88,326 to $83,326. The Obey amendment was ruled out of order, and an attempt to override the rules and put it up for consideration on the floor was defeated on party lines 222-200.

Mr. Obey said he wanted to “demonstrate that there’s a price to pay for tax cuts,” namely that “there are only table scraps left for homeland security.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, also decried the failure of the Obey amendment.

“Isn’t an average tax cut of $83,326 for America’s millionaires enough, when their small loss is every other citizen’s gain?” Mr. Hoyer asked.

Republicans disputed the notion that they were shortchanging homeland-security efforts.

“Some of our colleagues will complain no matter how much we spend,” Mr. Rogers said. “Let there be no mistake. We are adequately funding our nation’s homeland-security needs, and any comment to the contrary is political opportunism,” he said.

Mr. DeLay called the Democrats’ concerns “partisan griping.”

“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 Department of Homeland Security in the first place?” Mr. DeLay asked.

Democrats also lost an effort to include language that would have required that the department “not be used for political purposes.”

Rep. Martin Frost, Texas Democrat, was outraged that department staffers were used “for 40 minutes” to help track down Democrats of the Texas Legislature who escaped to Oklahoma earlier this year to sink a redistricting plan that would benefit Republicans.

“The attack on the World Trade Center took place in less than 40 minutes,” Mr. Frost said.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, offered an amendment that would dedicate more money for areas at higher risk for terrorist attack, such as New York City. The measure, supported by several New York Republicans, was withdrawn with the understanding that the matter would be addressed in conference committee with the Senate.

The Senate Appropriations Committee will begin marking up spending bills later this week. Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican, announced last week that the Homeland Security allocation would be $28.5 billion.

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