By Chris Strohm
June 10, 2008
A key House Democrat Tuesday said appropriators will give priority to
first responder grant programs, all-hazards preparedness and
cybersecurity when they mark up the fiscal 2009 Homeland Security
Appropriations bill Wednesday.
"I think it's not too hard to predict the kind of emphasis that the bill
will contain," House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee
Chairman David Price, D-N.C., told the Security Industry Association in
a speech. "This is a bill, the hallmark of which has been focusing on
first responders, focusing on natural disaster preparedness and relief,
and trying to think ahead of the curve in terms of the kinds of
protections that we need to put in place. So there are no radical
discontinuities between last year's bill and this one."
Price would not discuss any details of spending levels in the bill,
saying it is still being put together.
The Bush administration has requested $38 billion in discretionary
spending for the department.
Last year, the Democratic-led panel boosted funding for the grant
programs above what the administration was requesting. The
administration is seeking about $2.2 billion for those programs in
fiscal 2009, about $1.5 billion less than Congress allocated for the
current fiscal year.
"It's especially important as we pull this department together and
respond to new threats ... not to let deteriorate the conventional
capabilities that we had going into this new era," Price said. "It
shouldn't be a trade off. It shouldn't be swapping out one set of
priorities and capabilities for another. We need to prepare for all
hazards. That's really the challenge for this department."
In one area, though, Price said the bill will make cybersecurity a high
priority. The department has requested nearly $300 million for its role
in the administration's cybersecurity initiative.
Price said his panel's legislation is on pace to be the first spending
bill to move through the House, which he said could be problematic.
"To the extent that there are controversies simmering or to the extent
there are people who want to create controversies, the first bill out of
the block is certainly vulnerable to that kind of political
gamesmanship," he said.
He noted that the fiscal 2008 Homeland Security spending bill was held
hostage on the House floor last summer over an unrelated but highly
partisan dispute over the disclosure of earmarks. The dispute triggered
29 recorded votes and nine parliamentary motions to adjourn.
Price said he believes most spending bills will make it through the
House before the August recess but then face "formidable" obstacles in
the Senate and with the White House. "The process is going to be rather
messy in the end," he said.
"My guess is that although these bills will make it through the House I
think you will see in the fall a series of continuing resolutions which
keep the funding going at last year's level on in to the new fiscal
year," he said. More likely than not, he said, Congress will have to
pass an omnibus appropriations bill before a new administration comes
into office. "I think it's extremely likely that's the kind of process
you will see this year," he said.
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