WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly defended President Donald Trump's proposed budget cuts for his department, even as he told Congress that the United States "cannot invest too much in security" after recent terrorist attacks in Europe.
Trump proposed a budget last month that would cut nearly $700 million from grant programs for local first responders. Overall, Homeland Security would face a reduction of 3.2 percent for a budget that would total more than $49 billion.
House Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday raised concerns about the proposed cuts to the grant programs that local and state first responders use to prevent and prepare for attacks involving bombs, chemical weapons or computer hacking.
"We know in Boston how important that training was," said Rep. Bill Keating, D-Mass., referring to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., says former President Barack Obama proposed even steeper cuts to the grant programs in his final budget recommendation. King said he opposed the proposed cuts then and would continue to do so.
Kelly said the grant programs for local first responders were designed in response to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and enhanced local capabilities to respond to "large catastrophes."
"We're in a different place now," Kelly said. "Now, we're in a kind of sustainment phase."
He said the administration's view is that states and cities would step in to handle the training programs.
Kelly also emphasized that the nature of the threat has changed since the grant programs were put into place. They were originally focused on large-scale attacks. Now, the evolving threat comes primarily from "so-called homegrown lone wolf terrorists," and he said he did not know how to direct money to deal with that threat.
Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said he supported the president's proposed budget, praising an increase for cybersecurity operations, but "I would be remiss if I didn't express concern about the cuts to grants and training programs that are vital to first responders."
Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the committee, said local communities in his home state of Mississippi say they're not sure they'll be able to keep residents safe if the cuts go through.
Citing proposed spending on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, Thompson said the president's budget pays for programs that score political points with his base, but do little to address real security challenges facing the nation.