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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Bush Wants $38 Billion for Security

Spending: Protecting the nation from terrorism is a high priority in the president's new budget.

January 25, 2002|EDWIN CHEN and MATEA GOLD | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — President Bush said Thursday he would ask Congress to spend nearly $38 billion next year to protect the nation from terrorism, double the current year's budget, with considerable extra money going to beef up the "first responders" to attacks: local police, fire and rescue services.

The proposal to dramatically increase funds for homeland security, coming one day after Bush said he would seek the biggest boost in Pentagon spending in two decades, spotlights the rapid shift in the nation's official priorities after the Sept. 11 attacks and the war in Afghanistan.

Bush's budget director, Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., had suggested last week that the homeland security budget would be doubled next year. But this is a budget category that did not exist before Sept. 11, and Daniels left the impression that a doubling would leave the budget considerably smaller than $38 billion.

Speaking to a group of several hundred mayors who were in Washington, D.C., for a conference, Bush called winning the war against terrorism the first priority of his budget. "The second priority of our government, a priority which will be reflected in my budget, is making sure we protect the people at home," he said.

The proposal calls for $3.5 billion in federal assistance to states and local governments to bolster police, fire and rescue services, a tenfold increase over current spending. Bush also said some of the money would be spent on stockpiling medicines and modernizing the nation's public health system.

The mayors left the White House delighted by the prospective increase in federal aid.

"This will give us the seamless approach to how we deal with the issue of terrorism in America," said Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, adding that $3.5 billion "goes a long way to helping cities deal with the issues, the training, the equipment, and all those things that are necessary to make sure cities are prepared if we ever have another day like Sept. 11."

Nevertheless, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn said he and other city leaders would continue to seek federal reimbursement for the millions of dollars--$45 million by July 1 in Los Angeles' case--that the cities are spending on security.

"We don't expect to get every single dime back, but I think we are not giving up on our request for reimbursement," Hahn said. "What's been difficult for us has been the additional overtime dollars. That's really dug a hole in our budget this year."

In contrast to the mayors, some members of Congress expressed concern that such a sudden increase in funds over which the federal government would exercise relatively little control could result in considerable waste.

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) criticized the president for an "ad hoc, inconsistent and confusing" strategy. "There needs to be a comprehensive and detailed strategy, based on threat assessment, to prevent or respond to future attacks," she said.

The president unveiled his homeland security plans, which will be part of the budget he sends to Congress on Feb. 4 for fiscal year 2003, one day after revealing his intention to ask for a $48-billion boost for the military. Today he travels to Portland, Maine, to highlight port security and border control, aspects of homeland security.

With the approach Tuesday of his first State of the Union address, Bush and his top aides have been working to tout popular spending initiatives. They are not talking about the many programs that face cuts, nor about earlier presidential initiatives such as Social Security reforms and prescription drug coverage, which stand little chance of enactment in the new climate of budget deficits.

As with his announcement of the huge Pentagon budget increase, neither Bush nor the White House gave many details of his homeland security plans. Aides told reporters to wait for the president's speech and the submission of his budget.

Bush also said he was ordering the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring about compatibility in communications and rescue equipment among the nation's 36,000 municipalities.

His press secretary, Ari Fleischer, said the $37.7 billion in homeland security funds for next year would be spread across many government agencies and represented a combination of beefed-up existing programs and new ones.

The sharply increased support for first responders would include $2 billion to buy emergency equipment and $1.1 billion to train rescue personnel to deal with chemical and biological attacks.

Fleischer said the most populous states would receive the most federal aid. The states in turn would parcel out the funds to their cities and counties.

Border control, another aspect of homeland security, is budgeted at $8.7 billion in the 2002 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. The funds are shared by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Customs Service, the Agriculture Department's food inspection bureaus and the Coast Guard.

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