GIVEN THE fuss that some people have lately raised about poor oversight of homeland security, you would think Congress would jump at a chance to alter funding formulas that give, per capita, a disproportionate amount of homeland-security money to states that are not thought to be at a high risk of terrorism. But think again: Senators disproportionately represent states that are not thought to be at a high risk of terrorism. Many senators, it turns out, would rather grab as much money for their constituents as possible than allow the government to improve safety for the entire country as much as possible.

That's the only conclusion that can be drawn from the latest skirmish in the homeland-security funding war, a battle that has pitted members of Congress from small states against members from large states and has also set the House against the Senate. Last week, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) joined others to help kill an amendment to the Patriot Act reauthorization bill that would have dramatically changed the formula for spending homeland-security funds, making it significantly more risk-based. Formally, Ms. Collins had a technical objection to including the amendment in the Patriot Act, although that was where the formulas were first set out; she said it should be under the jurisdiction of a different Senate committee. Mr. Leahy, according to his spokesman, thought the measure was an attempt to "pit state against state" and to mask the real problem, which is the underfunding of homeland security.

They and others also felt the House hasn't negotiated hard enough with them -- Ms. Collins and Mr. Lieberman have put forward a less radical alternative -- and they further point out that the formulas have already been improved by other congressional measures, which is true. But given the speed with which homeland security funding is morphing from an urgent national priority into yet another vehicle for pork, a lot more improvement is needed, and a lot faster. The House has voted three times to carry out this reform. Too bad senators have priorities that come before security.