House passes Homeland funding

The House on June 24 passed the first Homeland Security Department appropriations — a $29.4 billion bill for fiscal 2004 that would pump millions into bioterrorism research and target dollars for first responders nationwide.

The House bill passed 425-2, and includes money for new technologies such as developing ways to detect biological agents sprayed over cities and to protect jets from land-to-air missiles. The bill also includes funds to strengthen security at the borders and money to develop antidotes to biological and chemical weapons.

Overall, the bill provides $4.4 billion for local firefighters, law enforcement and other emergency responders, which is nearly $900 million more than President Bush proposed. The legislation now goes to the Senate, which is expected to begin working on it next month.

"The House has fulfilled our promise to better secure America by ensuring the Department of Homeland Security has the tools it needs to thwart terrorist activity," House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) said after the vote.

While Republicans lauded the passage of the legislation, which includes $1 billion more than Bush sought, Democrats said it is not nearly enough money to protect America. They said the bill did not include enough money to increase security at the nation's ports. They noted that the Coast Guard needs $4.4 billion over the next decade, but the legislation included only $100 million for fiscal 2004.

Republicans blocked one amendment that would have made it harder to award federal contracts to U.S. firms that have moved offshore to avoid paying taxes and another that would have stopped a plan to screen airline passengers by checking databases such as credit reports.

An amendment that passed requires the Transportation Security Administration to provide a plan to inspect all cargo on passenger jets. No rule presently exists requiring the inspection of cargo that is shipped in the hold of commercial airliners.

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