WASHINGTON – Sen. John Edwards is calling for major improvements to national security, saying the Bush administration has addressed some vulnerabilities against terrorism, but not the "full range" of threats.
Favoring tax cuts for the wealthy over adequate funding for domestic security is "out of whack," Edwards said in remarks prepared for delivery Wednesday.
Edwards, a freshman lawmaker and likely Democratic candidate for president, says the country needs a new intelligence agency, improved security for vulnerable targets like nuclear power plants and skyscrapers, and better funding and equipment for firefighters, police officers and health care workers.
"Against all reason, the administration stubbornly clings to tax cuts that will benefit only the top 1 percent of Americans while arguing that we can't afford critical measures to protect the very lives of our people,'' Edwards says.
"This administration continues to have its priorities out of whack,'' he says.
The North Carolina senator needs to establish his ideas on national security and domestic security because some in the party wonder whether that could be a vulnerability against opponents with more political or military experience. Edwards has no military experience.
He has advocated taking an aggressive posture toward disarming Iraq, by force if necessary, because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction.
He applauded legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security, but said that at this point it is "more of a political achievement than a substantive achievement for America's security.''
Edwards said Congress has passed legislation to strengthen the nation's borders and ports, and guard against bioterrorism and cyberterrorism, but that they aren't being funded as they should be.
Edwards said President Bush deserves credit for his successes in the war on terrorism, "but he's also accountable for failure to make progress, for the wrong priorities and for wrong-minded steps that undermine our values without advancing our security.''
White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan responded by saying Bush is focused on three goals: winning the war on terrorism, protecting our homeland and ensuring America's economic security.
"The president is pursuing all three of those goals and we're making progress on all three,'' Buchan said.
Edwards said he'd like to see significant improvements in four areas: tracking terrorists, border security, target protection and domestic preparedness.
He previously has called for an intelligence agency separate from the FBI. Edwards said the FBI does a good job of law enforcement, but wasn't set up to be an intelligence agency.
A national terrorism information network linking all federal watch lists and the appropriate state and local databases could help prevent future terrorist attacks, Edwards said.
FBI Director Robert Mueller is working under orders from Bush to reorient the agency to focus on intelligence gathering.
Edwards also called for hiring more border guards and providing better technology at the border so agents can better weed out possible terrorists.
He also suggested better pay and training for federal workers who guard nuclear plants, improved security for chemical plants and speeding up security improvements for skyscrapers and transportation systems.
Edwards' aides estimate the price tag would be $10 billion to $12 billion in the first year, and $3 billion to $4 billion in subsequent years. The senator said many of his proposed improvements could be paid for by cutting government expenses, closing tax loopholes and trimming the federal work force in areas unrelated to national security.