Democrats See Holes In President's Budget Plan
Some Homeland Security Funds Cut

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.).

In a statement, she said that the complex was her "major economic development project for the District" and that the funding would mean that groundbreaking could begin soon.

But sources on Capitol Hill said the $120 million portion designated for the Homeland Security offices might be targeted as Congress looks to make up for the cuts in the state and local homeland security grants.

The budget proposal gives the D.C. area hundreds of millions of dollars in funds for transportation, moving forward programs approved in past years. Metro, for example, is slated to get $35 million for rail cars to relieve crowding. And a highway planning and construction program would provide $133 million for the District, a 20 percent increase from last year; $515 million for Maryland, a 17 percent increase; and $868 million for Virginia, a 15 percent increase. The latter program is funded mainly through gasoline taxes.

The project to extend Metro to Dulles International Airport would receive part of a $72 million pot of money for public transit, said Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.).

The $4 billion project is expected to be approved for its full allotment of federal funding, about $900 million, late this year. But worries over federal approval have risen as the project suffers delays and cost increases, partly because of the debate over whether to change the route to go below ground in Tysons Corner.

"It's a good sign," said Dan Scandling, Wolf's spokesman. "It's another step in the right direction for rail out to the Dulles corridor."

The budget provides $7.4 billion, the same amount as last year, for construction related to the program of closing or retooling military bases.

Members of Maryland's congressional delegation were concerned over what they called insufficient funding to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Under the president's proposal, Maryland would receive $16.6 million for a special state revolving fund to upgrade sewage treatment plants. That's a cut of nearly 50 percent from 2001, according to the office of Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D).

An additional $26 million in federal funds would again go to the Chesapeake Bay Program.

Mikulski reproached the Bush administration for cutting money for another local priority: the consolidation of the Food and Drug Administration offices in White Oak in Montgomery County. The president has asked for $58 million in 2008, compared with $178 million last year, the senator said, adding that the lower amount could delay the project by years.

In the District, officials were pleased by the budget requests for several projects. They include $12 million for the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority to reduce sewer overflows into the Anacostia and Potomac rivers as well as Rock Creek, a jump of $5 million. The budget would also provide $10 million for a forensics laboratory and $5 million to reimburse the FBI for the use of its laboratory.

The proposed budget also includes $10 million to renovate the D.C. central library and its branches.

Staff writers Spencer S. Hsu and Lena H. Sun and staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.

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