House Debates How to Fund Port Security, Border Crossings and Chemical Plants

The House struggled Thursday over efforts to pump billions of extra dollars into security at seaports, border crossings and chemical plants, as Democrats accused the Bush administration of not doing enough to protect the nation from terrorists.

The spending bill would give the Homeland Security Department $32 billion in 2007, $1.8 billion more than this year. The legislation moved toward passage as lawmakers debated dozens of competing proposals to bolster national security.

"We don't have the bucks in here to get enough of a bang to really protect the country," said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. He was pushing a long-shot plan to spend an additional $3.5 billion to secure borders and ports, and to give more money to states for emergency first responders, by rolling back tax cuts on Americans who earn more than $1 million next year.

Republicans urged against adding to the spending plan, which overall seeks $1.1 billion more than what the White House requested.

"We've learned a lot in the last few years about where the threats are," said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas. "The money that we've spent is allocated on a need based on the threat."

Noting that "not everything has gone right" at Homeland Security, Sessions said the spending plan would help make sure the department "runs on a better basis."

Homeland Security, which was created in response to the 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, has been criticized for providing only spotty protections since it opened its doors three years ago.

Its efforts to crack down on illegal immigration and prevent nuclear material from being smuggled into the country at seaports, for example, have been a recent source for ridicule by lawmakers from both political parties.

Homeland Security "has yet to prove itself to be a valued agency," said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. "Frankly, its value is very dubious."

For the second straight year, the House bill eliminates a $1.3 billion administration plan to raise fees for airline passengers. It also includes:

—$20 billion to protect U.S. borders and deter illegal immigration.

—$4.2 billion for port security.

—$6.5 billion to bolster disaster preparedness and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was overwhelmed when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast last year.

—$3.2 billion in state and local grants for emergency first responders.

The Senate has yet to write a similar bill.