Lawmakers provide more money for FBI, law enforcement work
WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers gave initial approval to increases for emergency agencies and the FBI on Wednesday as Congress stepped up its work on spending bills for next year.
First responders across the nation would get about $4.4 billion -- nearly $900 million more than President Bush proposed -- from a $28.5 billion measure for the new Department of Homeland Security unanimously approved by a Senate Appropriations subcommittee.
Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, top Democrat on the panel, called the funds "inadequate" but Democrats supported the bill anyway, saying its Republican authors had done the best they could with limited funds.
The bill boosts spending for airport security equipment and the Coast Guard and has $60 million for testing ways to protect airliners from missiles. There would be a 60-day delay -- until a congressional report could be written -- on the administration's plans to profile airline passengers by checking bank account activity and other data, a proposal that has drawn concern from civil libertarians.
Separately, the FBI won a $424 million increase -- to $4.6 billion -- from a House Appropriations subcommittee. Republicans said the money, included in a $37.9 billion measure for the Justice, Commerce and State departments, would let the FBI hire nearly 2,500 more agents and analysts, though some worry whether the agency will have enough funds to pursue terrorists while still performing its traditional law enforcement duties.
"I just hope and pray this is enough money for that to take place," said Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky.
The House panel also restored $1.2 billion that Bush wants to cut out of state and local crime fighting programs, financing the grants and payments at $3.5 billion. The bill would also fully fund the national do-not-call registry that lets people take their phone numbers off telemarketing lists.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved Bush's request for $1.9 billion more this year for rebuilding communities battered by natural disasters, fighting forest fires and investigating the space shuttle Columbia's destruction in February. The panel voted unanimously to add $100 million for the cash-strapped AmeriCorps national service program, which has said it may have to eliminate many of its volunteers.
The Senate panel approved the $2 billion after attaching it to a bill providing $3.6 billion for Congress' own activities next year, with increases for the Capitol police force and the Capitol visitors' center, which is experiencing cost overruns.
In other action in both Republican-run chambers on next year's spending measures:
The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a $368.6 billion defense spending bill, 1.3 percent more than this fiscal year, not including the $62.4 billion provided in April to pay for military operations in Iraq.
The bill is roughly the same size as the version approved Tuesday by the House, and is about $3 billion less than Bush's request. Lawmakers expect to make up the gap later this year.
--The House voted 223-200 to block Democrats from reducing this year's tax cut for millionaires and adding the money to a $138 billion measure financing education, health and labor programs, the largest of the 11 annual domestic spending bills. The measure was 4 percent bigger than this year's, with overall increases for schools and biomedical research. Democrats say the bill falls below amounts promised in earlier high-profile bills like the "leave no child behind" education act. The White House supports the bill, although it complains that the bill falls short for Pell Grants for low-income college students, heating aid for the poor, and other areas.
--A Senate Appropriations subcommittee approved $19.6 billion for the Interior Department and federal cultural programs that spends more on maintaining national parks than on buying more land for them. Included is $2.2 billion for battling wildfires, about 10 percent more than this year.
--The House by 394-26 approved $2.7 billion for Congress' own operations, excluding money for the Senate. The bill is $34 million below this year's level, but has an 8 percent boost -- to $514 million -- for House members to pay aides, office expenses and mail costs.
--A House Appropriations subcommittee approved $466 million in federal aid for the District of Columbia's local government, $43 million less than this year. The bill retains prohibitions against using federal money for benefits for domestic partners, and against using federal and local funds for giving hypodermic needles to illegal drug users.