WASHINGTON – Three weeks before London's bus and subway bombings, a Senate (search) committee voted to slash spending on mass transit security in the United States, a decision sure to be reversed when Congress returns next week.
At a minimum, the Senate will restore the $50 million cut, G. William Hoagland (search), top budget aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said Friday.
There is pressure for a lot more, though adding to rail and transit security programs means cutting elsewhere in the Homeland Security Department's (search) $32 billion budget for next year. That places severe limits on what Congress can do — at least if it plays by its budget rules.
Despite the March 2004 bombing of Madrid's subway system, U.S. officials have been consumed with preventing a repeat of the airliner hijackings that produced the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
In a stroke of bad timing, the Senate Appropriations Committee (search) voted last month to slash money for rail and transit security grants to state and local government by a third from the $150 million devoted to them this year. As of May, none of the money had been distributed by the Homeland Security Department.
The House would match current funding in a bill it passed in May. President Bush proposed bundling rail, transit and bus security grants into one $600 million program that would also fund security improvements at ports and other critical facilities such as chemical plants. Both the House and Senate have rejected that idea.
Sen. Charles Schumer (news, bio, voting record), D-N.Y., promises to try to double the level of rail and subway security funds to $200 million when the full Senate take up bill. However, there are other proposals to add as much as $1 billion, which would require a difficult-to-pass waiver of budget rules.
"Following the attack on Madrid's rail system, the terrible terrorist attacks in London is our second wake-up call to greatly improve our rail and mass transit security here in America," Schumer said. "It is clear that we're not doing close to enough and must do more."
The London attacks came as policy-makers continue to debate the appropriate mix of funding to protect America's transportation systems. The Transportation Security Administration — responsible for screening airline passengers — is heavily focused on aviation.
Many lawmakers, including Rep. Harold Rogers (news, bio, voting record), R-Ky, who chairs the House Appropriations Homeland Security panel, say that TSA focuses too much on security for air travelers at the expense of surface transportation.
The White House budget proposal for the TSA contained $4.7 billion for aviation security and just $32 million for railroads, subways, buses and other forms of surface transportation.
"Instead of looking ahead ... TSA is still focused on preventing the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001," complains Sen. Robert C. Byrd (news, bio, voting record), the senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.