WASHINGTON – Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search) on Monday criticized President Bush's record on homeland security, saying his Republican rival is "big on bluster and short on action" in protecting the nation.
Speaking to the International Association of Firefighters (search), a 263,000-member union that has endorsed his candidacy, the four-term Massachusetts senator argued that Bush talks tough on terrorism but has failed to back it up with the financial resources firefighters and other first responders need.
"I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the war on terror, I believe he's done too little," Kerry said. "I think this administration has it backward. President Bush says we can't afford to fund homeland security. I say we can't afford not to."
At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan sought to raise credibility questions about Kerry, suggesting that the Democrat had lied when he said some foreign leaders privately back his candidacy.
Kerry should identify the leaders who purportedly hope he beats President Bush in November, McClellan said. "Either he is straightforward and states who they are, or the only conclusion one can draw is that he is making it up to attack the president," the spokesman said.
Kerry has declined to name any leaders who have voiced support for his candidacy, saying he didn't want to betray any confidences.
"I have heard from people, foreign leaders elsewhere in the world who don't appreciate the Bush administration and would love to see a change in the leadership of the United States," he said.
Asked about the latest Republican criticism, Kerry said, "They're trying to change the subject from jobs, health care, the environment and social security. They don't have a campaign so they're trying to divert it."
Speaking to the firefighters union, which has members in more than 3,500 communities, Kerry said, "Whether it has been providing funding and equipment for firefighters, ensuring that cargo in our ports is screened, guarding our chemical and nuclear facilities, or working with local communities across the country to give them resources they need -- this administration has given our homeland security efforts short shrift. You deserve better."
The Bush-Cheney campaign (search) questioned Kerry's claim, saying the president's budget request for fiscal 2005 calls for $500 million in grants for firefighters, a 400 percent increase since 2001.
"When John Kerry shows up to meet with union bosses today, he should explain why he didn't show up for the vote on last year's $29.3 billion Homeland Security appropriations bill," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign.
Kerry used the appearance at the union's legislative conference to fault Bush's leadership, arguing that the president has alienated allies and carried out failed policies.
"He's pushed away our allies at a time when we need them the most," Kerry said. "He hasn't pursued a strategy to win the hearts and minds of people around the world and win the war of ideas against the radical ideology of Usama bin Laden (search)."
The Democrat added: "When it comes to protecting America from terrorism, this administration is big on bluster and short on action."
In his speech, Kerry also focused on a report in The New York Times that federal investigators were examining television reports in which the administration paid individuals to pose as journalists and praise the Medicare law that offers a prescription drug benefit for the elderly.
"They've hired actors to pose as journalists to sell a bad bill with your money," Kerry said. "After already hiring actors to pose as soldiers in the president's campaign commercials you have to wonder: How many Oscar-winning performances will it take to convince America that George Bush can put America back on track?"