WASHINGTON – Senator Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Tuesday rebuked the Bush Administration for its failure to fund adequately those on the front lines of the war on terrorism — the local fire, police, and emergency medical personnel who are the first to the scene of a disaster.
Lieberman, who led the battle to consolidate scores of existing government agencies and programs into a new Department of Homeland Security, said supporting hometown efforts must be a top federal priority if the nation is serious about protecting Americans on their home turf.
“Reorganization can’t work if we have an administration that’s going to refuse to provide the resources we need to succeed at every layer and level of government,” Lieberman said. “President Bush isn’t meeting his responsibilities to our state and local front line troops in the war against terrorism.”
Lieberman authored legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security in October 2001. As Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, he held 19 hearings on the issue — including one on the role of state and local governments — and played a central role in Senate debate of the bill. President Bush opposed creation of a new department until June 2002, when he abruptly reversed course.
Last February, however, in his Fiscal Year 2003 budget proposal, Bush promised $3.5 billion in federal aid to state and local first responders that would have helped them buy equipment, train staff, and plan to prevent terrorist attacks. That money is still tied up in Washington, which means thousands of communities across the country have been unable to press ahead to meet this national challenge.
“Our firefighters are left holding the ladder,” Lieberman said. “Our police departments are put in fiscal handcuffs…Tax revenues are down and Washington is demanding expensive new programs without offering financial support. Those unfunded mandates — mainly in homeland security, education, and healthcare — have put too many communities in dire straits.”
Lieberman noted that states have cut budgets, drawn down rainy day funds, and now may be forced to raise taxes or watch their fiscal futures evaporate. In fact, late last month, the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers reported that state budgets are in their worst shape since World War II.
Lieberman said this means local fire departments might not get federal training grants for rescue workers. Governors will have a harder time developing and implementing emergency preparedness plans. And local communities may not even be able to pay for critical security projects and programs that are already underway.
“The President could have used his political capital to get that money to move swiftly from the Capitol all across the country. But he didn’t,” Lieberman said. “He sat on the sidelines. That was a grave mistake.”
“Federal agencies doing domestic defense work are being under-funded by the Administration as well — with the Customs Service, the Coast Guard, and others coming up hundreds of millions of dollars short of what they need to protect us. That is just plain wrong.”
“It’s time to fund our homeland security as well as we do our international security,” Lieberman said.