House approves money for security, defense
WASHINGTON — The House approved bills Wednesday covering spending for domestic and global security, including $29.4 billion for the new Homeland Security Department and $368 billion for Pentagon spending other than the war in Iraq.
Both measures passed with little opposition, although Democrats protested that the Homeland Security bill didn’t go far enough to ensure the safety of cargo on passenger planes.
After Senate action, the two bills — the products of House-Senate negotiations — would go to the president for his signature. They would be the first of 13 spending bills that Congress must pass every year to fund programs for the 2004 budget year that starts Oct. 1.
The House also passed a $3.54 billion bill to run Congress and its related offices. Tacked on to that measure was $937 million in emergency spending for this budget year to help victims of natural disasters.
The Homeland Security bill, passed 417-8, is the first for the new department formed last spring from the combination of 22 security-related agencies. The funding, $1 billion above what President Bush requested, includes some $4.2 billion for first-responder programs, $9 billion for border protection and $5.2 billion for the Transportation Security Agency and the Federal Air Marshal Program.
Democrats said the money for first responders was insufficient and criticized the administration for seeking to spend $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan while holding down spending on domestic security. But the biggest dispute was over air cargo.
The original House bill banned passenger planes from carrying uninspected cargo. But the compromise worked out with the Senate instead provides $85 million for the research, development and procurement of technology that can screen cargo. No deadline is set for full implementation.
The machinery doesn’t exist today to effectively screen cargo, said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., head of the Appropriations subcommittee in charge of homeland security. An unrealistic deadline, he said, would be an economic disaster for the airlines, which carry 22 percent of their cargo on passenger aircraft.
But Democrats said the cargo issue needed to be addressed more urgently.
“We all understand that what goes into the belly of a plane is really a problem,” said Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn. The House, voting 226-198, rejected a Democratic effort to sideline passage until money for first responders was increased and air cargo security improved.
The bill also approves $890 million in the 2004 fiscal year, and $5.6 billion over 10 years, for a project to research, produce and stockpile vaccines and antidotes in response to the threat of bioterrorist attacks.
The defense bill, passed 407-15, provides $98.5 billion for military personnel, with an average 4.1 percent pay raise. It includes $9.1 billion for a missile defense system, up $1.4 billion from this year, and $11.5 billion for shipbuilding, up $2.4 billion.
The defense budget is up only 1 percent from this year, but that figure does not include spending for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those costs were included in a $62.4 billion emergency spending bill passed earlier this year and in the proposed $87 billion measure, now being debated in Congress, for military and rebuilding operations in the two countries.
The $3.54 billion spending bill for the legislative branch, passed 371-56, has $48 million for the Capitol Visitor’s Center, a massive three-story underground project aimed at enhancing security and tourist facilities. It is due to be completed in 2005.
Attached to that bill is an emergency spending measure that provides $442 million for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief, $319 million for firefighting and $50 million for NASA’s investigation of the Columbia shuttle disaster.