Democratic congressional leaders yesterday called on President Bush to submit an additional budget request for homeland security within seven days, saying Bush has dangerously shortchanged efforts to protect the nation from terrorism.
Flanked by some of the firefighters who responded to the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, they said at a Capitol Hill news conference that Bush has not included enough for homeland security in his budgets and should file a supplemental request amounting to billions of dollars more.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) of the House and Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) of the Senate made the request for more money in a letter they sent jointly to Bush earlier in the day.
Pelosi and Daschle were backed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, whose general president, Harold Schaitberger, said local fire departments "have yet to see a dime of the money that has been promised by this administration" after the 2001 attacks.
Daschle said: "It is shameful that the heroes who rushed to defend the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 have to come to Washington over and over, hat in hand, and beg this administration for resources they need to do their jobs."
Daschle and Pelosi said Bush and congressional Republicans have repeatedly rejected Democratic proposals for increased security funding, most recently rejecting a proposal to add $5 billion to the omnibus spending bill that passed Congress late Thursday. Now the nation faces new terrorism threats and the administration is still not budging, they said.
"It is indefensible that you have not made funding for homeland security your top priority," they wrote Bush. "Instead you have advised Americans to buy duct tape, plastic sheeting and bottled water."
Without putting a price tag on their requests, Pelosi and Daschle called for a new block grant to improve capabilities of first responders along with money to ensure inspection of all cargo containers entering the United States, beef up the Coast Guard and Border Patrol, strengthen visa and passport processes and enhance information-sharing among government agencies. They also urged money to improve security at nuclear plants, oil refineries and chemical plants and for transportation systems and food and water supplies. Schaitberger said the administration's budget amounted to little more than a "reshuffling" of funds.
Some Democratic presidential candidates are making similar criticisms. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) yesterday called for an additional $16 billion in spending for homeland security, far more than the administration's request.
"We remain in too much danger today," he said in a speech at George Washington University.
Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), in a floor statement Thursday, said Bush "is failing the test on homeland security." He introduced legislation to create a new Homeland Intelligence Agency to collect foreign intelligence within the United States. It was one of six bills Edwards has offered this year on homeland security.
Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.
supplemental spending for homeland security.