Bush: $38B For Homeland Defense

homeland security. terror.
President Bush said Thursday he wants to devote nearly $38 billion to preparing for and preventing domestic terror attacks, with special emphasis on bolstering the "first responders" — police, firefighters and emergency medical teams.

"The first minutes or hours after an attack are the most hopeful minutes for saving lives," Mr. Bush said. "We've got to remember the role of the first responders. It became vivid, obviously, on Sept. 11."

In a speech to mayors, Mr. Bush proposed $37.7 billion for homeland security in his fiscal 2003 budget plan, with $3.5 billion — "a 1,000 percent increase," he said — going to state and local emergency responders. The overall domestic security budget would almost double from $19.5 billion.

The president said the money represents the start of a focus on domestic defense that will last throughout his presidency. "What the American people expect is a determined, relentless effort. That's exactly how we're going to behave," he said.

Homeland security director Tom Ridge has expanded the government's efforts to avert terror and better prepare for an attack on U.S. soil, but much of that work is invisible to Americans. He has issued three general terror alerts, with no specifics and simultaneous urgings that citizens carry on normal routines.

On Wednesday, Mr. Bush proposed the biggest increase in military spending in 20 years, nearly $50 billion more next year, and said America "will not cut corners" in the war against terrorism.

If approved by the House and Senate, it would be the largest increase in military spending since President Reagan held office two decades ago. Mr. Bush said the extra money would go toward missile defense, pay increases for service personnel and acquisition of precision weaponry, unmanned vehicles and high-tech equipment.

With Thursday's announcement on homeland security, Mr. Bush sought to boost Americans' confidence that emergency teams in their own neighborhoods are taking steps to prepare for an attack. He assigned the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate terror response with local officials, and urged the mayors to set aside politics and cooperate with the federal government.

"We have no choice," Mr. Bush said. "We find ourselves in a moment of history where we, as leaders, have to respond."

Wednesday, Ridge told about 300 mayors, in town for the annual winter meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, that police, firefighters and emergency crews deserve greater resources because "for them, the potential of a new challenge, a new battle is with them every, single day."

"We want to empower cities and states to build upon their first-response capability, and then we want to help you sustain it in the future," he said.

Some $2 billion of the money would help state and local agencies buy equipment for responding to a terror attack, and about $1.1 billion would go to training personnel to respond to chemical and biological attacks.

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Mr. Bush would set aside $245 million for programs for exercises designed to improve response capabilities.

He also seeks to create an evaluation process to ensure his First Responder Initiative produces results.

The increase in domestic security funding comes as Mr. Bush's proposed budget projects a deficit of $106 billion, following four straight years of federal surpluses.

"Part of the president's priorities are to protect the country by providing the defense of the United States, to protect the homeland," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. "The president believes that the single most thing that our country or our government can do to help the economy grow is to prevent another terrorist attack."

Homeland security spending will also pay for stockpiling and distribution of medicine, and border and port security, said Fleischer and homeland security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Ridge promised more money for research and for enhancing hospitals' abilities to respond to a bioterror emergency.

Other initiatives are also under review at Ridge's office, including a move to consolidate the many government agencies that oversee border security and to create a multistage alert system that would supplant the general alerts he has previously issued.

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