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Senate weighs $1B more for transit safety

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on July 12.)

WASHINGTON -- The Republican who oversees domestic security spending in the Senate faced a fight Tuesday as another senior GOP lawmaker pushed for a big increase for protecting mass transit systems in the wake of the London bombings.

The spending squabble loomed as top Homeland Security Department officials briefed lawmakers on a massive internal overhaul, including creating an intelligence director and a chief medical officer to deal with bioterror issues, to be announced Wednesday.

As part of a $31.8 billion bill for Homeland Security next year, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said he planned to offer a measure directing $1.16 billion for commuter rail, subways and bus systems.

The bill currently sets aside $100 million for mass transit security -- $50 million less than was provided this year. The measure is being pushed by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who chairs the Senate Appropriations panel that oversees homeland security funding.

Gregg said he would consider doubling the bill's mass transit security spending to about $200 million, but he said going much beyond that amount risks adding to the deficit.

''There is going to be a lot of discussion of mass transit numbers before we finish this bill,'' Gregg told reporters. ''My view is that we've got to stay within the allocation. I was allocated a certain amount of money, and we'll stay with that.''

The House in May approved spending $150 million on transit security. President Bush proposed bundling rail, transit and bus security funding into a $600 million program that would also fund ports and chemical plants, but both the House and Senate rejected that idea.

Senate Democrats said Shelby's plan better fulfills security needs than other proposals.

''This not about last week's tragic attacks on London,'' said Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

''We've been attacked here,'' Lieberman said. ''We know the reality of the threat of terrorism and we know, unfortunately, the reality of America's continuing vulnerabilities.''

As part of the overall bill, the Senate approved, 71-26, a funding formula that more than doubles state grants for emergency first responders -- and in some cases goes far beyond what the White House proposed.

The amendment by Lieberman and Senate Homeland Security Chair Susan Collins, R-Maine, also would double the amount of money sent to high-risk areas. Critics said it doesn't ensure enough money for cities and regions that face the highest threats.

The bill was being debated as Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff outlined his much-anticipated department reorganization to lawmakers. The changes Chertoff will announce Wednesday include:

--Adding a director of intelligence to fuse information gathered from analysts within 11 Homeland Security bureaus.

--Creating a chief medical officer to help coordinate bioterror issues within Homeland Security and among other federal agencies.

--Opening a policy office to set Homeland Security's top priorities, one that includes international liaisons.

--Creating a Preparedness Directorate, which will include protecting critical infrastructure.

Lawmakers briefed by Chertoff said he highlighted immigration and vulnerabilities at chemical and nuclear plants among his concerns.

''This was his very cursory introduction about how he sees the department after the reorganization,'' said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi, the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee. ''He said that he saw vulnerabilities in chemical and nuclear facilities, and that he wanted to put more emphasis on that.''

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

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