Monday, December 03, 2007

Bush: Gimme More Iraq War $$, Or I'll Starve Domestic Anti-Terror Programs

Homeland Security Grants May Be Cut by More Than 50 Percent Under Bush's Fiscal 2009 Budget Plan -- Which Critics Brand 'Budgetary Blackmail' -- as President Ups Pressure on Congress to Approve More Money for Iraq War 'With No Strings Attached'


Is President Bush trying to blackmail Congress into keeping the Iraq war money spigot flowing? Confronted with a hardening resolve by the Democratic-controlled Congress to invoke its constitutional control over the federal purse and force him to begin the process of bringing U.S. troops home, Bush appears to be retaliating by proposing deep cutbacks in funding for domestic anti-terrorism programs across the country in his final budget proposal for the 2009 fiscal year. The plan -- made public by The Associated Press -- has already sparked widespread bipartisan outrage. (Photo: Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse)

By Devlin Barrett, Ben Feller,
Deb Reichmann and Eileen Sullivan
The Associated Press

The Bush administration intends to slash counterterrorism funding for police, firefighters and rescue departments across the country by more than half next year -- even as the president increases his pressure on congressional Democrats to approve new money to fund the war in Iraq "without strings and without delay" before leaving for the Christmas holidays -- according to budget documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The Homeland Security Department has given $23 billion to states and local communities to fight terrorism since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, but the administration is not convinced that the money has been well spent and thinks the nation’s highest-risk cities have largely satisfied their security needs.

The department wanted to provide $3.2 billion to help states and cities protect against terrorist attacks in 2009, but the White House said it would ask Congress for less than half — $1.4 billion, according to a November26 document.

Bush has been pushing Congress to approve the war funding -- without a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops -- and finish its debate over rules for government eavesdropping within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

He also wants lawmakers to pass annual government spending bills — but not in "one monstrous piece of legislation" filled with money for special interests. And he wants Congress to send him legislation that keeps middle-class Americans from being hit by the alternative minimum tax.

"Members [of Congress] are coming back [this week from their Thanksgiving recess] to a lot of unfinished business," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. "The clock will be ticking, because they have only a few weeks to get their work done before leaving again for Christmas."

A Constitutional Confrontation: Who Controls the Federal Purse?

[But the timing of Bush's 2008-09 budget plan, coming amid a mounting clash between the White House and Congress over Iraq war funding, can be interpreted by critics of the war as the president resorting to "budgetary blackmail" -- an unsubtle threat to slash funding for domestic anti-terrorism programs if Congress doesn't approve the war money.

[That, in turn, could trigger a full-scale constitutional confrontation with congressional Democrats over who has the last word on controlling the federal purse -- which Article I of the Constitution gives exclusively to Congress.

[The president has requested another $196 billion to fund the war for the current fiscal year, which began on October 1. But Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are taking an increasingly uncompromising hard line, adamantly insisting that any future Iraq war funding must be accompanied by a timetable for a troop withdrawal -- which Bush has vowed he will never accept.]

The House had passed a $50 billion bill that would keep war operations afloat for several more months, but set a goal of bringing most troops home by December 2008. After Bush threatened to veto the measure, Senate Republicans blocked it with a filibuster -- which their Democratic counterparts lack the 60 votes required under Senate rules to overturn.

[Democratic congressional leaders promptly retaliated by refusing to send to Bush any war spending bill this year at all -- sending an unmistakable, if as yet unspoken, message to the White House that they could ultimately invoke Congress' constitutional power to control the federal purse by cutting off funding for the war altogether.

[Now, it appears, by proposing to deeply slash funding for domestic anti-terror programs in the next fiscal year's budget, the president is wielding a new weapon in his determined fight to secure more money for the war.]

Bush's FY '09 Budget Cuts Would Really Stick It to His Successor

The plan, which must be submitted to Congress by mid-February, calls for the outright elimination of programs for port security, transit security, and local emergency management operations in the next budget year.

This is the president's final budget, and Bush's successor would be forced to live with the funding decisions between the time he or she takes office on January 20, 2009 and the time the 2010 fiscal year begins the following October.

The Homeland Security Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget, which is in charge of the administration’s spending plans, would not provide details about the funding cuts because nothing has been finalized.

“It would be premature to speculate on any details that will or will not be a part of the next fiscal year budget,” OMB spokesman Sean Kevelighan said, because negotiations between the White House and the Cabinet departments over the budget are not finished.

Plan At Odds With Bush's Own Security Policies; Boxer Brands It 'D.O.A.'

The proposal to drastically cut Homeland Security grants is at odds with some of the administration’s own policies. For example, the White House recently promised continued funding for state and regional intelligence “fusion centers” — information-sharing centers the administration deems critical to preventing another terrorist attack. Cutting the grants would limit money available for the centers.

The White House’s plan to eliminate the port, transit and other grants, which are popular with state and local officials, would not go into effect until next September 30. Congress is unlikely to support the cuts and will ultimately decide the fate of the programs and the funding levels when it hashes out the department’s 2009 budget next year.

The White House routinely seeks to cut the budget requests of federal departments, but the cuts proposed for 2009 Homeland Security grants are far deeper than the norm. Congress has yet to approve the department’s 2008 plan.

“This budget proposal is dead on arrival,” said Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California). “This administration runs around the country scaring people and then when it comes to putting their money where their mouth is, they say ’sorry, the bank is closed.”’ California receives a large share of the counterrorism money each year, and could lose more than $200 million under the White House plan.

Boxer was particularly incensed about the proposal to end money for port security — a big concern on the West Coast. “California’s ports carry over 47 percent of all goods imported into the United States,” she said. “A terrorist attack at any of California’s ports could shut down our nation’s port system and result in a mind-boggling loss for our nation’s economy.”

Pentagon Ups Ante, But Murtha Hints at Compromise

Pentagon officials said that if the additional money for the Iraq war is not approved soon, the military will have to take cost-cutting measures. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered the Army and Marine Corps to begin planning for a series of expected cutbacks, including civilian layoffs, termination of contracts and reduced operations at bases.

"The funds include money to carry out combat operations against the enemy in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said. "They include money to train the Afghan and Iraqi security forces to take on more responsibility for the defense of their countries. And they include money for intelligence operations to protect our troops on the battlefield."

In response, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) is holding a press conference today (Monday) to discuss Democrats' efforts to change course in Iraq. "Bush Republicans have indefinitely committed our military to a civil war that has taken a tremendous toll on our troops and our ability to respond to other very real threats around the world," Reid said on Thursday.

For her part, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) argued that while U.S. troops continue to be killed in Iraq, the Bush administration is not placing enough pressure on the Iraqi government to secure the nation and provide necessary services to its citizens.

"In January, the president announced the so-called troop `surge' to give Iraq's government the `breathing space' to achieve political reconciliation," Pelosi said in a statement released Friday. "Eleven months later, Iraqi politicians have failed by every measure to make the necessary political progress.

"Democrats are committed to a new direction in Iraq that holds the president accountable, provides real support to our men and women in uniform and will bring our troops home safely, honorably and soon."

Meanwhile, there was at least a sign of a potential breakthrough. Representative John Murtha (D-Pennsylvania) said Thursday that after talking with President Bush's adviser on the Iraq war, he thinks Congress and the White House might be able to end the showdown on war funding.

After a phone conversation on Wednesday initiated by Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, Murtha said he's "more optimistic that there's a possibility now." Murtha, chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee, said one possible area where he thinks Democratic leaders could compromise is on a date to end the war. He said Democratic leaders want Bush to "sit down and work out a plan with the Congress so that we work this whole thing out."

Outrage in New York Over Anti-Terror Funding Cuts

Bipartisan opposition to the proposed anti-terror cuts emerged from New York, another state that would be hard hit. “To zero out essential Homeland Security programs which have more to do with protecting Americans and fighting the war on terror than much of the money spent in Iraq shows how warped and out of touch this administration’s priorities are,” said Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York).

The proposal “goes totally in the wrong direction,” said Representative Peter King (R-New York). “This would be a very grave mistake, and I will do all I can to stop it.”

[The plan also drew fire from at least one presidential candidate. In remarks Sunday to NY1, the city's local 24-hour cable news channel, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) called the plan "unconscionable," and vowed that she and other New York leaders will "do everything possible to ensure that our first responders are provided with the funding and resources that are critical to their success on the frontline of our homeland security efforts.”

[There was no immediate comment from Republican presidential candidate and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani on the proposed cuts.

[But Giuliani's successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was furious. "It's stunning that the federal government would consider cutting New York City's homeland security funds from the already inadequate level that currently exists,” the mayor said in a written statement.]

This isn't the first time that cuts in funding for domestic anti-terror efforts have drawn controversy. In 2005, the Bush administration cut by 40 percent the counterterrorism funding to New York and Washington, D.C., the two cities hit hardest on September 11.

Then, as now, New York lawmakers vented bipartisan fury -- and the Homeland Security official in charge of the grants program eventually resigned. Since then, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff has promised to apply more common sense and less “bean-counting” in grant decisions.

White House Asserts Some Anti-Terror Grants a 'Waste of Money'

The White House plan calls for massive cuts in areas where Homeland Security officials had sought increases. The department requested $900 million for grants to U.S. cities at greatest risk of attack. But the White House only wants to provide $400 million for that program, to be divided among no more than 45 urban areas.

Earlier this year, Congress gave New York City $134 million — about a third of the total amount the White House would give to the highest risk areas in the country in 2009. While very popular in the states and among lawmakers who take credit for getting counterterrorism dollars to their districts, some of the Homeland Security grants have been criticized as wasteful or excessive:

* $345,000 for crashproof barriers and 60 closed-circuit cameras to monitor the University of Arkansas Razorback stadium, which local officials think could be a terrorist target.

* $5 million for the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology to buy a nearly deserted town to use for counterterrorism training.

* $70,000 for Huntsville, Ala. to create a fallout shelter in an abandoned mine where 20,000 people could take cover underground.

* Several South Florida fire departments have used Homeland Security grants to beef up their gyms. Pompano Beach, Fla., spent $220,000 on fitness equipment for a wellness program, training and physical exams.

While the White House would eliminate at least seven current Homeland Security grant programs, it would create two new grants:

* Targeted investment grants, which would fund administration priorities such as the requirement that states create more secure driver’s licenses, secure credentials for transportation employees and state and local planning for catastrophic disasters. The White House would provide $450 million for that.

* A $300 million discretionary grant program for terrorism preparedness, prevention and response, which would fund specific projects instead of sending a set amount to each state.

These grants have long been debated in Congress, particularly whether a certain amount should be guaranteed to each state regardless of its risk of being attacked by terrorists. Rural lawmakers have not wanted the money to be distributed based on risk alone because it would mean their states and districts would see cuts.

In a joint statement, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut), and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said they “urge the administration to reconsider this wrong-headed strategy.”

FISA Extension Mired in Dispute Over Telco Immunity

On the intelligence legislation, Bush has been pushing Congress to finish its debate over rules for government eavesdropping within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and pass an extension of the 1978 law.

Lawmakers hastily changed the FISA law last summer to allow the government to eavesdrop inside the United States without court permission, so long as one end of the conversation was reasonably believed to be located outside the U.S.

The original law required a court order for any surveillance conducted on U.S. soil, to protect Americans' privacy. The White House argued that the law was obstructing intelligence gathering because, as technology has changed, a growing amount of foreign communications passes through U.S.-based channels.

"This new law expires on February 1 while the threat from our terrorist enemies does not," Bush said.

The most contentious issue is whether to shield telecommunications companies from civil lawsuits for allegedly giving the government access to people's private e-mails and phone calls without a FISA court order between 2001 and 2007.

[Civil libertarians have warned lawmakers that granting the companies immunity would violate their customers' Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable government searches and seizures by allowing the telcos to get away with failing to require the government to obtain court orders to gain access to their customers records.

[Such a requirement is mandated by the FISA statute and by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1988, as well as a unanimous 1972 Supreme Court ruling -- backed up by a 1975 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the nation's second-highest court -- that the Fourth Amendment itself requires such court warrants.]

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(Additional reporting for this article, in brackets, provided by NY1 and by Skeeter Sanders.)

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Volume II, Number 60
Special Report Copyright 2007, The Associated Press.
The 'Skeeter Bites Report Copyright 2007, Skeeter Sanders. All Rights Reserved.



Professor Smartass said...

Great news!

If Bush thinks we don't need to spend so much fighting terrorism at home, it's time to start getting our civil liberties back.

Anonymous said...

Dear Resident Bush,

Please cut funding for homeland security before they come and lock me up for trying to carry nail clippers onto the airplane.
Also, since I have vowed to resist getting a Real I.D. card, and will be driving illegally in 2008, maybe Real I.D. funding will dry up and I can stay an honest law abiding citizen of MY OWN DA#N COUNTRY !!!
BTW - I have been an honest law abiding citizen of my country for 71 years now. Why is it you want to make me a criminal now?

Anonymous said...

Domestic WOT or WOIraq they are both the same pile of absolute corruption.