Lieberman leads homeland funding push

Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) added his voice today to criticism that the Bush administration is shortchanging Americans' security at home.

"We remain in too much danger today," said Lieberman in a speech prepared for delivery at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Lieberman said that the nation must invest $16 billion more than the administration's proposed homeland security spending of $41.3 billion in fiscal 2004.

"Our borders and ports are too porous, our first responders are ill-equipped, our infrastructure is under-protected, and our supply of vaccines and antidotes is far too limited," said the senator, who is running for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination.

Another presidential contender, Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.), also criticized Bush for emphasizing tax cuts for the rich over security for all Americans in his fiscal 2004 budget proposal.

"We could meet these needs if President Bush would put aside just half of the $20 billion in tax cuts he has proposed for 226,000 millionaires," Edwards said.

Lieberman has long been critical of the administration's failure to adequately fund first responders and provide a comprehensive homeland security policy within the United States.

As the former chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee and now its ranking member, he has worked to include more money and resources in the homeland security legislation that passed Congress last year.

But now, Lieberman said President Bush's 2004 budget proposal includes only $300 million more than the fiscal 2003 budget for homeland security—less than a 1 percent increase.

Lieberman told the gathering at the Anser Institute for Homeland Security and the Elliott School of International Affairs that he would work for more money and resources to meet "our urgent security needs."

At the minimum, he said, the federal government needs to invest $16 billion more than Bush's proposed $41.3 billion for next year, including $7.5 billion more than the president's $3.5 billion request for first responders.

"We are at war," Lieberman said. "Our local communities are targets. Our local first responders are in need. We must act with urgency today."

Lieberman proposed a series of actions to bolster the nation's homeland security efforts:

* Create a National Homeland Security Academy—a West Point for domestic defense.

* Develop a Smart Intelligence Sharing Strategy to integrate information among federal, state and local officials.

* Devote $100 million in new funding for technology and other means to verify the contents of every cargo container entering the United States.

* Double the $500 million requested by President Bush for Coast Guard modernization.

* Allocate an additional $1.7 billion for the Transportation Security Administration to protect the nation's transportation infrastructure.

* Allocate $1 billion to hire new border personnel and create smart borders.

"The administration has been too slow, too protective of the status quo, and too unwilling to back up tough talk with real resources when it comes to improving our homeland defenses," Lieberman said.

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