July 14, 2005

Senate defeats more mass transit security funds

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday defeated
efforts to spend an additional $1 billion to secure American
mass transit systems, despite arguments that last week's London
bombings underscored the need for the money.

While 53 of the Senate's 100 members backed the move to
spend an additional $1.2 billion next year to shore up security
for the nation's subways and buses, supporters needed 60 votes
to prevail because the additional money would have exceeded the
Senate's self-imposed spending caps.

The Senate legislation in its current form would spend $100
million for mass transit security next year.

Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire questioned the
effectiveness of such a huge spending increase, saying it
"would probably not impact dramatically the security
situation." As chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Gregg
has been working closely with the White House to keep a lid on
domestic spending.

The debate over protecting mass transit came during a
four-day Senate debate on $30.8 billion for the fiscal year
starting Oct. 1 for the Department of Homeland Security.

A week ago, bombs exploded in London's subway tunnels and
on a city bus, killing at least 52 people and injuring around

"In the wake of the tragic attack in London last week, and
attacks in Madrid, Moscow and South Korea, we know all too well
that transit systems are targets for terrorists," said Sen.
Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who pushed for the added

Sarbanes and other supporters complained that American mass
transit systems, which move an estimated 14 million commuters
every weekday, were being left behind as the federal government
rushed to make air travel safe. Sarbanes said that since the
Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has spent $18 billion
on aviation security and only $250 million to protect transit
systems, "which carry 16 times more passengers daily."

"We've been spending pennies as far as transit security,"
said Sen. Richard Shelby, the Alabama Republican who led the
fight for more mass transit security.

The $1.2 billion would have been spent to install
surveillance cameras in subways, put bomb-sniffing dogs in
train stations and on railcars, hire more security personnel
for all mass transit and install more bomb detection devices.

Gregg repeatedly argued that senators, in doling out
security money for next year, had to focus on what some experts
say are the biggest threats to domestic security: the possible
detonation of a weapon of mass destruction and attackers
infiltrating porous American borders.

Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said he was
"aghast" that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
recently argued that localities mostly had to bear the brunt of
protecting their mass transit systems since hijacked airliners
have proven to be a much bigger threat to domestic security.

Schumer said that if Chertoff continued to express such
views, "I'm not sure he should continue as secretary."

Senators also defeated a move to add security funds for
intercity passenger and freight trains. Even a modest amendment
by Gregg to add $100 million in mass transit funding failed as
it would have taken some funds from local "first responders,"
such as police and firefighters.