First Responder Budget Cuts Draw Congressional Ire
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are blasting a Bush administration proposal to cut 2009 funding by as much as half for local emergency management operations, including interoperability grants.
A lack of funding could jeopardize state and local emergency management agencies' plans to utilize spectrum that will be auctioned by the government in January.
Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Homeland Security Office has given $23 billion to states and local authorities for counterterrorism programs.
Homeland Security budgeted another $3.2 billion for similar programs in the 2009 federal budget, but according to White House OMB (Office of Management and Budget) documents leaked to the Associated Press, the administration slashed that figure to $1.4 billion.
Congress has yet to authorize funding for the 2008 budget and the White House's 2009 budget is only in the preliminary stages. Any such proposal would also have to be approved by Congress. Nevertheless, both Democrats and Republicans on Dec. 10 reacted angrily to the proposal.
"If true, these proposed cuts would mark a dangerous and disingenuous U-turn in the administration's approach to homeland security and first responders," Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement.
Lieberman noted that Bush signed legislation earlier this year permanently establishing many of the grants now targeted in cuts. "[Bush's] budget officewith no supporting evidence that these programs aren't neededis now considering a wholesale abandonment of them," he said.
Rep. Peter King, R-NY, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee and a longtime Bush ally, threatened to cut other portions of the president's 2009 budget if the proposal stands.
King said in a newspaper interview that he initially discounted the budget-slashing proposal, but after talks with top White House budget officials, he is convinced it is not a trial balloon.
Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn, also issued a statement critical of the proposal.
"It's astounding that at the same time the president is calling for more money for his war that has made this country more vulnerable, he is proposing to slash funding for the first line of defense here at home," Dodd said.
"With less than what we are spending each week in Iraq, we could fully fund what the Department of Homeland Security said was needed for state and local homeland security programs."
The White House did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
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