WASHINGTON – Angered over funding cuts to big-city terror targets, House Democrats sought Tuesday to add more money for New York and Washington.
Even Republicans who agreed with boosting money immediately to the cities targeted on Sept. 11, 2001, doubted it would be included in the $32 billion plan to fund the Homeland Security Department in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
"It was an outrage to see the reductions that we saw to New York and to D.C.," said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., adding that he expected spending cuts to go to "other communities that simply don't have the same risk."
Since Congress doesn't control where Homeland Security spends the money, Shays discouraged adding more funding to the spending plan. "And still appropriate some of the dollars based on risk?" he said. "That would be a huge mistake. The big issue that can't be lost here is, it needs to be based on risk. Period. Case closed."
Last week, Homeland Security divided $710 million among 46 high-threat urban areas nationwide in a controversial annual grant program that took a $829 million cut from 2005. Much of the difference resulted in 40 percent fewer dollars for New York City and Washington, although some smaller cities, like Omaha, Neb., saw their funding increase.
However, the budget blueprint considered Tuesday, which was expected to go to a final vote by mid-evening, sets spending levels only for the 2007 fiscal year — and would not serve as an immediate fix.
Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., who chairs the House Appropriations panel that oversees homeland security spending, told lawmakers he supported efforts to "further look into the matter." But he blocked an $3.5 billion effort by Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, to add money to the overall spending plan — including $115 million for New York City and $40 million for Washington.
Though Rogers said the measure could not be allowed because it would change existing law, Obey retorted: "The House could vote on this amendment if the House Republican leadership saw fit to allow us to do so."
Still, lawmakers from both parties have vowed to investigate how Homeland Security divided the slashed funding, keeping the department under fire for the foreseeable future.
"What planet are they living on to come back to with a homeland security formula that reduces funding by 40 percent to the two highest-risk areas to the country?" said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
In all, the House bill would give Homeland Security $1.8 billion more in 2007 than this year. It bolsters protections at seaports by $448 million more than in 2005, adds 1,200 Border patrol agents, and, for the second straight year, eliminates a $1.3 billion administration plan to raise fees for airline passengers.