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Senate panel attacks homeland security budget

Bipartisan group says funding does not match Bush's rhetoric

From Mike M. Ahlers

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Acts of terror
Senate
Department of Homeland Security
Michael Chertoff

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Both Republican and Democratic senators took aim Tuesday at the president's proposed 2007 homeland security budget in a hearing, saying it fails to live up to Bush's strong warnings about the threat of terrorist attack.

"It's a hollow budget and I can't understand it," Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire told Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "I've watched the press conferences where the administration says it is committed to border security and domestic defense, and this budget isn't going to get there."

Echoed Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia: "The president in his State of the Union address said to America, 'The enemy has not lost the desire or the capability to attack us.' And yet a look at the administration's budget reveals an odd, odd, odd complacency."

He added that "the president's speechwriters and the administration's policy writers seem to be living in alternative realities."

President Bush's proposed fiscal 2007 budget calls for a 6 percent increase in Homeland Security spending, one of the few areas showing a bump in funding.

But members of the Senate appropriations homeland security subcommittee said the budget relies on higher airline passenger fees, which Congress rejected last year and would reject again.

"The administration knows (an increased passenger fee) is a non-starter because the (authorizing committee chairman) Ted Stevens said it is a non-starter. And he proved it last year," Gregg said.

The Department of Homeland Security, meanwhile, said it has revised last year's proposal to address inequities between rural and urban airline passengers and hopes Congress will approve it. Under the proposal, the airline passenger fee would change from $2.50 per leg of a flight to a flat $5 fee.

"I have to say, in the nature of things, it doesn't seem like an unreasonable fee," Chertoff said, noting that airline passengers are the beneficiaries of increased airline security.

The money would raise $1.33 billion for the department, which commands the Transportation Security Administration.

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