Over strong objections from urban lawmakers, the Senate voted to increase rural states' share of homeland security dollars, the latest twist in an ongoing dispute over how to assess risk in funding firefighting and other emergency services.
At issue is $1.9 billion in "first-responder" funds included in a $31 billion homeland security spending bill that the Senate is considering for fiscal 2006. Senators approved 71 to 26 an amendment that would increase the guaranteed funding for the states to about $763 million, compared with $579 million in the original Senate bill.
The Bush administration has sought to drastically reduce the minimum percentage that states receive in emergency-services funding so that more money could go to large cities with a higher risk of attack. That approach was endorsed by the Sept. 11 commission and has been fiercely advocated by urban lawmakers, stirring a confrontational debate on the Senate floor.
Former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean (R) and former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D) -- the chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks -- criticized the Senate approach. "Our national security requires that scarce homeland security dollars be allocated to the maximum extent possible based on an assessment of risks and vulnerabilities," they said in a statement.
-- Shailagh Murray