- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003


Congress yesterday completed work on a $29.4 billion package to finance domestic security programs next year, sending President Bush the first spending bill to cover the new Homeland Security Department.

The House also approved a $368 billion measure covering Pentagon spending other than for the war in Iraq. The Senate was likely to follow suit quickly so Mr. Bush could sign the bills into law before the 2004 budget year begins Wednesday.

Both measures passed with little opposition, although House Democrats said the Homeland Security bill didn’t go far enough to ensure the safety of cargo on passenger planes.

The two bills would be the first of 13 spending measures that Congress must pass every year to fund programs for the new fiscal year.

Next year’s defense budget is up 1 percent from this year, but does not include spending for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those costs were included in a $62.4 billion emergency spending bill passed earlier this year and the proposed $87 billion measure, now being debated in Congress, for military and rebuilding operations in the two countries.

The House also passed a $3.54 billion bill to run Congress and its related offices. Tacked onto that measure was $937 million in emergency spending for this budget year to help victims of natural disasters.

The Homeland Security bill, passed by a 417-8 vote in the House and by a voice vote in the Senate, is the first for the department, formed last spring from the combination of 22 security-related agencies. The funding, $1 billion above what Mr. Bush has requested, includes some $4.2 billion for first-responder programs, $9 billion for border protection and $5.2 billion for the Transportation Security Administration and the Federal Air Marshal program.

Democrats said the money for first responders was insufficient and criticized the administration for seeking to spend $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan while holding down spending on domestic security. But the biggest dispute was over air cargo.

The original House bill banned passenger planes from carrying uninspected cargo. The compromise worked out with the Senate instead provides $85 million for the research, development and procurement of technology that can screen cargo. No deadline is set for full implementation.

The machinery doesn’t exist to screen cargo effectively, said Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican and head of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of homeland security. An unrealistic deadline, he said, would be an economic disaster for the airlines, which carry 22 percent of their cargo on passenger aircraft.

Democrats said the cargo issue needed to be addressed more urgently.

“We all understand that what goes into the belly of a plane is really a problem,” said Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, Minnesota Democrat. A Democratic effort to sideline passage until money for first responders was increased and air cargo security improved was defeated by a 226-198 vote.

The bill also approves $890 million in fiscal 2004, and $5.6 billion over 10 years, for a project to research, produce and stockpile vaccines and antidotes in response to the threat of bioterrorist attacks.

The defense bill, passed by a 407-15 vote, provides $98.5 billion for military personnel, with an average 4.1 percent pay raise. It includes $9.1 billion for a missile defense system, up $1.4 billion from this year, and $11.5 billion for shipbuilding, up $2.4 billion.

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