WASHINGTON – Republicans are congratulating themselves for whisking the first bill financing the new Homeland Security Department (search) through the House, winning unanimous Democratic support.
Despite their votes, Democrats said the $29.4 billion measure came up short.
The GOP-run chamber voted 425-2 on Tuesday to approve the legislation, which increases spending for state and local emergency workers, steps to thwart bioterrorists and port protection.
"The House has fulfilled our promise to better secure America by ensuring the Department of Homeland Security has the tools it needs to thwart terrorist activity," House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search), R-Ill., said after the vote.
Democrats said the bill was shy of a strenuous effort to shore up gaps in the nation's defenses against terrorism. They said the bill's $100 million to buttress security at ports, for example, is a small fraction of the $4.4 billion the Coast Guard has estimated will be needed over the next decade.
"There are gaping holes in our security, and at the rate we're going it will be many years before they can be filled," said Rep. Jose Serrano (search), D-N.Y.
GOP Reps. Ron Paul of Texas and Jeff Flake of Arizona were alone in voting "no." The Senate has yet to produce its version of the bill.
The measure would finance the 22 agencies -- and more than 170,000 workers -- merged into a new Cabinet-level department by legislation enacted last November.
The biggest federal reshuffling in half a century was initially opposed by Bush and derided by critics as a rearrangement of the federal bureaucracy. Eventually it gained White House support and broad bipartisan backing.
The department includes the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, Customs Service and Border Patrol -- but not the FBI or CIA.
Until now, its component agencies were financed in several separate spending bills. The legislation considered Tuesday would provide $536 million, or 1.9 percent, more next year than what those agencies are getting in 2003.
The White House said it supported the measure because it "largely tracks the administration's request." It would exceed Bush's proposal by more than $1 billion.
"I'm particularly pleased that the House bill supports my request to help train, equip and prepare first-responders across the nation," Bush said in a statement.
Republicans used one procedural vote to block Democrats from adding $1 billion to the measure -- to be paid for by slightly reducing the tax cuts enacted recently for people earning more than $1 million a year.
The GOP used other procedural moves to strip one provision making it harder to award federal contracts to U.S. firms that have moved offshore to avoid taxes, and another blocking a plan to screen airline passengers by checking credit reports and other records.
Overall, the measure would provide $4.4 billion for local firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency responders, nearly $900 million more than Bush proposed. Included was $1.9 billion distributed by formula among state and local governments, $894 million over this year's total.
There was $5.6 billion over the coming decade -- including $890 million for 2004 -- for Bush's proposed Project Bioshield, under which the government would acquire antidotes and take other steps to counter bioterror.
The TSA would get $5.2 billion, down $639 million from this year. The new agency has been criticized by both parties for hiring too many screeners and inept management.
New technologies would get more money, including money to develop ways to protect airliners from missiles and detect germs sprayed over cities. Bush would get only $350 million of the $480 million he wants for using new identification technologies to screen and track visiting foreigners.
The bill contained fewer home-district projects than is common for spending measures. Among the few was language recommending that $19.5 million for bridge alterations be divided among Mobile, Ala.; Burlington, Iowa; LaCrosse, Wis.; Chelsea, Mass.; and New Orleans.