Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Legislation proposed by a key Democrat this week would raise taxes to fund billions in new Homeland Security spending on more police officers, interoperable communications equipment and 100 percent screening of cargo entering the United States.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said by rolling back President Bush’s tax cuts that up to $50 billion could be generated over five years for security improvements.

“To protect our homeland, we have to radically reorder our priorities,” said Mr. Biden, who did not specify which tax cut would be eliminated, only that it affected people who make more than $1 million a year.

Mr. Biden’s Homeland Security Act of 2007 calls for “scanning” 100 percent of cargo containers, development of new “screening” technology and the hiring of 50,000 new police officers and 1,000 FBI agents.

“This is all about setting the right priorities for America. Instead of giving a tax cut to the richest Americans who don’t need it, we should be focusing on the security of all Americans,” Mr. Biden said.

Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, called the bill a “gimmick.”

“Money is not the only issue; the fact is many cities have not come up with real plans to make it work. He’s creating a false problem,” Mr. King said. “He is making a class warfare argument to raise money on an issue without any knowledge of the issue.”

The Homeland Security Department has allocated $2.9 billion for interoperable communications efforts, but hundreds of cities have yet to agree on which system they want to use.

As chairman of the committee last year, Mr. King passed legislation to address port security, which already requires 100 percent cargo screening through manifest checks and other procedures put in place by the Coast Guard at ports overseas.

“We want to scan it or X-ray it overseas before it reaches our ports, where it can blow up,” Mr. King said.

More than $60 million from the Homeland Security Department and the Energy Department has been set aside to install radiation portal monitors at U.S. ports.

Since 2004, $10 billion has been spent on port security.

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