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House struggles to plug security gaps, including rail

(The Associated Press circulated the following article on May 26.)

WASHINGTON -- Bogged down by dozens of programs to boost national security without stretching taxpayers, the House put off voting Thursday on a spending plan that would pump billions of extra dollars into protecting the country against terrorists.

The $32 billion spending bill would give the Homeland Security Department $1.8 billion more in 2007 than this year. After five hours of debate -- and numerous plans yet to consider -- lawmakers decided to finish the bill when the House returns from a one-week recess in June.

In the meantime, lawmakers agreed to spend an additional $50 million to bolster rail security in a plan by Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., that pit lawmakers from cities with large transit systems against those from rural areas.

''We seem to have forgotten that more people travel on rail on a daily basis than fly,'' said Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn.

Rep. Harold Rogers, chair of the House Appropriations panel that oversees homeland security spending, warned the plan would shift money from other projects to avoid increasing the bottom line.

''What we can't afford to do is fund one program at the expense of all the others,'' said Rogers, R-Ky.

Democrats accused the Bush administration of not doing enough to protect the nation from terrorists, and lawmakers from both parties noted widespread management problems at Homeland Security.

''We don't have the bucks in here to get enough of a bang to really protect the country,'' said Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Homeland Security, which was created in response to the 2001 terror attacks in New York and Washington, has been criticized for providing only spotty protections since it opened its doors three years ago.

Homeland Security ''has yet to prove itself to be a valued agency,'' said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y. ''Frankly, its value is very dubious.''

For the second straight year, the House bill eliminates a $1.3 billion administration plan to raise fees for airline passengers. It also includes:

--$20 billion to protect U.S. borders and deter illegal immigration.
--$4.2 billion for port security.
--$6.5 billion to bolster disaster preparedness and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was overwhelmed when Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast last year.
--$3.2 billion in state and local grants for emergency first responders.
The Senate has yet to write a similar bill.

Friday, May 26, 2006

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