Democrats See Holes In President's Budget Plan

By Mary Beth Sheridan and Alec MacGillis
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, February 6, 2007

President Bush's proposed 2008 budget would provide hundreds of millions of dollars for projects in the Washington area, including a new Homeland Security complex in Southeast and improvements to roads and Metro.

But Democratic lawmakers said it does not include enough for homeland security, health care and cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.

"We're now in another year where the president has sort of said one thing in the State of the Union but the reality of the budget is very different," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said after reviewing the proposal, released yesterday, for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1

The staffs of federal lawmakers from the D.C. area were still wading through the voluminous document last night to more clearly gauge its potential impact on the region. Sharp increases for the departments of Defense and Homeland Security seemed certain to benefit the local economy, with its profusion of contracting firms.

But legislators said proposed cuts in some programs could harm local residents.

For example, a Homeland Security grant program for state preparedness was slashed by 60 percent -- to $465 million nationwide -- and another for state and local training was reduced by more than half -- to $95 million. That could lead to smaller amounts from those anti-terror programs for Maryland, Virginia and the District.

"This year's budget fails to acknowledge the role that the national capital region, and Maryland, plays in protecting our nation from future attacks," Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) said in a statement. She complained that funds for port-security grants, for example, were kept at 2007 levels instead of increased to address continuing threats.

Jarrod Agen, a federal Homeland Security spokesman, pointed out that the department would get an extra $1 billion to distribute nationwide in grants for communication equipment for police and other first-responders.

"When you factor in that $1 billion with the rest of the totals, it's roughly about the same as what the allocations were last year" for national homeland security spending, he said. The Washington region also stands to potentially gain money through an anti-terrorism program for urban areas that was revamped when legislators complained last year that it shortchanged high-risk areas.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) played down concerns about local homeland security cuts in Bush's proposed budget, calling the proposal a "starting point" and adding that Congress would likely be able to avert funding cuts.

"We'll take care of it," Davis said. The administration has "got to make everything balance out. Congress will get its two cents in."

The budget request includes almost $347 million to build a Homeland Security complex and Coast Guard headquarters on the campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington, according to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

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