Bill Clears Hill
Congress sent President Bush a $32 billion homeland security bill yesterday with big increases for patrolling borders, fewer grants for local first responders and a freeze in transit security funding.
The bill, passed by the Senate on a voice vote, also facilitates a Homeland Security Department reorganization that strips disaster preparedness from the beleaguered Federal Emergency Management Agency so that it can focus on responding to events such as hurricanes and follow-up recovery efforts.
Democrats complained that the measure would weaken FEMA, which was an independent agency before it was folded into the newly created department in 2002. They also said it would shortchange local police, firefighters and emergency medical services as well as security for passenger rail and subway systems.
The legislation increases the department's overall budget by 5 percent. Two border security agencies are getting 10 percent increases that, when added to emergency funds passed earlier this year, would pay for 1,500 new border patrol agents.
The bill cuts funding for first-responder grants for states and local governments by about 17 percent, $680 billion less than last year. However, the department has been slow to distribute grants from prior years and has $6.2 billion in reserve, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said.
For the Record
* A federal appeals court rejected what it called a Bush administration attempt to "pull a surprise switcheroo" by weakening the government's authority to monitor air pollution from power plants, refineries and factories. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit annulled the Environmental Protection Agency's revisions of air-pollution-monitoring requirements last year.
* A federal judge ruled against the Department of Homeland Security in a labor dispute over proposed workplace rules that would reduce the power of labor unions at the department, which has 160,000 employees. U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said the department's proposal falls short because it leaves open avenues to unilaterally disavow lawful contracts.
* The Senate unanimously confirmed Dale Hall, a Fish and Wildlife Service regional director, as head of the whole agency despite complaints that he has not done enough to protect threatened and endangered species. Hall succeeds Steve Williams, who resigned to become president of the Wildlife Management Institute.
-- From News Services
and Staff Reports