WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidates John Kerry (search) and John Edwards (search) on Monday questioned whether the higher terror alert level is enough to help communities prepare for such threats.
Howard Dean (search), the Democratic front-runner who is often more critical of the Bush administration than his rivals, had no comment Monday on the heightened threat but said last week that local emergency officials need more financial support to do their jobs. Wesley Clark (search) said the decision shows Usama bin Laden (search) remains a threat.
Kerry, who was in the midst of 24 hours of campaigning in Iowa, proposed an "Orange Alert Fund" to help local governments pay for increasing security.
Kerry, a senator from Massachusetts, said cities and counties have been hit hard by budget cuts. He said his proposal was a result of the government's decision Sunday to raise the nation's alert status from an "elevated" risk, represented by the color yellow, to "high," which is marked by the color orange.
"When the threat of terrorism is increasing, I'll do more than simply issue an Orange Alert," said Kerry. "As president, I'll make sure that towns and cities don't have to bear all the burdens of increasing security."
Kerry did not release a price tag for his package, but said it would provide resources to allow local governments to hire an additional 5,000 security staffers, all trained to provide homeland security.
Edwards, a North Carolina senator, seemed to agree with Kerry.
"A higher alert level won't make us safer unless cops and firefighters in our communities get more help," said Edwards, who was in New Hampshire. "Because of budget shortfalls, many communities have been forced to lay off cops and close firehouses."
"If President Bush were truly serious about homeland security, he would do more than increase the threat level," Edwards said. "He would increase support for cops and firefighters in our communities."
Dean sidestepped questions about the orange alert (search) while campaigning in New Hampshire. "I'm not the one who sets the terror alert level," he said. On Thursday, while campaigning in Manchester, Dean said public workers such as the state police and Coast Guard (search) would get more funding if he were president.
Dean faced sharp criticism last week after saying "the capture of Saddam has not made America safer." Several rivals said the comment was evidence that Dean is not ready to be commander in chief.
Clark, the retired Army general, said the administration is focused on the wrong threat.
"We had [bin Laden] on the run in December 2001, but the administration didn't have a plan for success, didn't have sufficient U.S. forces on the ground to close the noose around him, and he escaped," Clark said. "The administration wants to say he's not a threat, but today's heightened terrorism alert ... says he still is, despite 170 some odd billion dollars and 450 lives committed in Iraq."
Joe Lieberman (search) said raising the terror alert was appropriate.
"They made the right decision," the Connecticut senator said. "They had enough intelligence information to make me worry about the possibility of another terrorist attack, and a serious one."
Lieberman said "we make it hard" for terrorists to strike when the government declares a higher state of alert.