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$1B sought for rail security

(Newsday posted the following article by Deborah Barfield Berry on its website on July 13.)

WASHINGTON -- Calling the rails the "terrorist target of choice," some Democrats, including New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, pushed yesterday to add $1 billion for transit and rail security to a Homeland Security spending bill.

Democrats complained that the Bush administration and federal Homeland Security officials haven't done enough to address rail security and said the train bombings last week in London and last year in Madrid should serve as a wake-up call.

"There has been no leadership from the top," said Clinton, adding that rail security has been done on an "ad hoc basis since Sept. 11."

The effort comes as the Senate debates a $31.9 billion Homeland Security spending bill. Democrats also pushed to restore $587 million in grants for first responders and to put back money in the budget for 6,000 additional airport screeners.

Lawmakers also approved 71-26 a bipartisan measure that would change Homeland Security's funding formula so states considered more at risk will get a bigger share. The House recently approved a similar measure. President George W. Bush supports the risk-based approach.

New York officials have lobbied to change the formula. "The major urban areas have not gotten their fair share," said State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a Democratic candidate for governor.

Meanwhile, Democrats urged Bush to support more money for rail security. "I'm not sure this administration learned a lesson from 9/11," said Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). "We're in deep trouble here."

Homeland Security officials noted that $115 million for rail and transit security has been awarded since May 2003. They also said that since 9/11, states have been awarded $8.6 billion to spend on security, including rails.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said in light of the London bombings measures to boost rail security will likely garner support. "There's always been a question about whether we should be doing more," Snowe said.

And while airport security has improved, Schumer said, "You can't ignore other areas because the terrorists look at our weakest pressure point."

Faced with budget constraints, Congress has to limit spending, said Sen. Judd Gregg, (R-N.H.), chair of the Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee. "We'd like to do more ... but we can't," he said.

Last month, Gregg's subcommittee cut funding for rail and transit security to $100 million from $150 million. Gregg, who said the funding could possibly be doubled, said the committee earmarked money to other concerns, such as border security.

(Albany researcher Melissa Mansfield contributed to this story.)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

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