July 13, 2006

Senate approves more border security funds

By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved
about $32.8 billion in domestic security spending for next year
with legislation to bolster law enforcement at borders and
ports and strengthen the hobbled Federal Emergency Management

The Senate bill, approved 100-0, added about $1 billion to
hire more port security-workers and equipment and to arm border
patrol agents with new aircraft and other vehicles.

But attempts failed to add more security for big-city
transit systems and railroad lines in the heavily-traveled
Washington-to-Boston corridor.

FEMA, the agency criticized for botching relief efforts
after Hurricane Katrina hit the U.S. Gulf Coast last August,
would be renamed the U.S. Emergency Management Authority. The
bill would keep the agency within the Department of Homeland
Security but give its director more powers and seek to focus
its mission.

Much of the four-day debate on the bill was spent arguing
over how to allocate among the 50 states money for emergency
response to terrorist attacks or natural disasters.

The Senate defeated a move to restore next year $750
million in emergency anti-terrorism funds that were taken this
year from New York City and Washington D.C., enraging local
leaders over the 40 percent cut.

Small states again prevailed against larger-population ones
when the Senate also defeated, by a vote of 65-35, a proposed
Homeland Security Department funding formula that would have
shifted more security money to New York, New Jersey, California
and other states thought to be on terrorist hit lists.

"Wyoming is getting seven times more funding per capita
than New Jersey," complained Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a New
Jersey Democrat.

The debate came one week after authorities said they had
foiled plans for a suicide bombing of a rail tunnel under the
Hudson River linking New York City and New Jersey.

The bill funds domestic security programs for the fiscal
year starting October 1. Included is a plan to prohibit
building tunnels into the United States from Mexico or Canada.
Backers said that besides helping drug smugglers and illegal
immigrants, the tunnels could provide passage for terrorists.

It also puts on hold, until June 1, 2009, full
implementation of a plan requiring passports or other high-tech
identification for everyone entering the United States,
including from Canada.

The bill also would stop federal agents from seizing
prescription drugs that Americans import from Canada, often at
a lower cost.

The House and Senate will try to work out differences in
their respective bills this summer.