House boosts domestic security funds for 2008
By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives on Friday approved significant increases in funds next year for domestic security and veterans care in a challenge to President George W. Bush's more limited budget requests.
By a vote of 268-150, the House passed a $36 billion domestic security bill for fiscal 2008 that the White House has threatened to veto, in part because it would spend about $2 billion more than Bush wanted.
"We are spending $10 billion a month in Iraq. Given our continuing homeland security vulnerabilities, we surely can find $2 billion more to keep the American people safer at home," argued House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat.
The bill was the first of 12 spending bills for the fiscal year starting October 1 to pass the House and the beginning of a struggle over how to spend more than $900 billion to fund the federal government overall.
The White House said Democrats had concocted a domestic security bill with "an irresponsible and excessive level of spending."
Later on Friday, the House, by a vote of 409-2, approved a second bill that provides $64.7 billion for veterans and military construction projects.
It would also spend significantly more than Bush wanted, including $1.7 billion above the president's request to improve access to medical care for veterans. Democrats say the money is needed to help the Veterans Administration deal with the large number of injured soldiers returning from combat in Iraq.
The vote came on the same day a Defense Department task force concluded the military was ill-prepared to deal with mental health problems developing among soldiers serving extended deployments in war zones. It also came after reports earlier this year of poor medical treatment for wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
DELAY IN PASSPORT RULE
Earlier this week, the White House backed away from threats to veto the veterans bill.
The Senate has not yet passed its version of the security or veterans funding bills.
The security funds are intended to help stem illegal immigration and better prepare the country for another terrorist attack or weather-related disaster.
The Department of Homeland Security funding bill includes more money than Bush requested for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. The agency provides emergency rescue and relief services and was criticized for a slow, confused response to the Gulf Coast devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Before passing the bill, the House overwhelmingly approved an amendment to delay until mid-2009 a border security program requiring U.S. and Canadian citizens to have passports or other high-tech identification that can be scanned when arriving from Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and Caribbean countries.
The proposed delay, which also is pending in the Senate, would apply only to travelers entering the United States by land or sea. The requirement is now set to take effect next year.
The government is having a difficult time processing the huge increase in passport applications prompted by the program and a similar one for air travelers. Congressional offices have been inundated with complaints from constituents whose passports have been delayed.
The bill also aims to improve airport baggage screening, double the amount of cargo being screened for explosives before being loaded onto passenger aircraft and allow states to impose tougher security regulations on chemical plants.
Local law enforcement agencies also would receive more money than Bush had requested to train and equip themselves for a terrorist attack.
If Bush vetoes the bill, House Republican leaders predicted they would have enough support to prevent the Democrats from overriding the veto.
((Editing by Eric Walsh; Reuters Messaging: firstname.lastname@example.org; 202-898-8391)
Saturday, June 16, 2007