Congressional Republicans have turned back the first of several Democratic attempts to add to spending for homeland security next year, ensuring the issue a role in the 2004 congressional elections, the Washington Post reports. A proposal by Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) to add $1.75 billion to the $29.3 billion appropriations bill for the new Department of Homeland Security lost on a largely party-line vote of 50 to 43 — 17 votes short of the 60 needed under Senate rules because the proposal exceeded budget allocations.
Democrats plan more narrowly targeted efforts to increase anti-terrorism spending. The Democrats’ contention, disputed by Republicans, is that the administration and the GOP-controlled Congress are shortchanging the nation’s domestic security needs. Byrd sought to add $602 million for transit security; $729.5 million for police, firefighters and “first responders”; $238.5 million for border protections; $100 million to safeguard air cargo; and $80 million to protect chemical facilities.
Since Congress’s initial $40 billion response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “the momentum has slowed,” Byrd told the Senate. “Homeland security initiatives are falling behind.” Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the new appropriations subcommittee for homeland security, said there is “no end to the list of ways we could spend additional funds on homeland security.”
Meanwhile in the House, lawmakers debated the proposed $37.9 billion measure to finance the Commerce, Justice and State departments for the year that begins Oct. 1. The bill would provide $4.6 billion for the FBI, $424 million more than for 2003. The House voted overwhelmingly to roll back a key part of the USA Patriot Act that allows the government to conduct secret “sneak and peek” searches of private property, Reuters reported.