Homeland defense will remain part of Bush-Kerry debate
By Edward Felker
WASHINGTON -- Homeland security was a key part of Thursday's presidential debate, and it is certain to be an important issue in critical Midwest swing states for Sen. John Kerry and President Bush.
The debate brought out the differences between Bush, who touted his record, and Kerry, the Democratic nominee from Massachusetts, who said too little has been done since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
For his part, Bush said he has boosted airport security, enhanced law enforcement capabilities through the Patriot Act and tripled homeland security spending to $30 billion annually.
He also said he has overseen the FBI's new domestic anti-terror focus, created the Department of Homeland Security, increased border security and spent $3.1 billion on fire and police responders.
Yet while Bush pledged to fund homeland needs, he said the best thing the nation can do is continue fighting terrorists overseas.
"But, again, I want to tell the American people: We're doing everything we can at home, but you better have a president who chases these terrorists down and brings them to justice before they hurt us again."
Kerry countered that he was "going to make sure we're not cutting cops programs in America and we're fully staffed in our fire houses and that we protect nuclear and chemical plants."
Kerry consistently accuses Bush of not doing enough about homeland security and notes that the president initially opposed the Department of Homeland Security.
Bush, Kerry said, has failed to adequately fund police and fire departments and transit security in big cities, failed to boost cargo inspections and failed to protect chemical and nuclear plants.
Further, he accused Bush of giving in to influence by chemical companies in not requiring greater security at chemical plants.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, of the 15,000 plants nationwide subject to the agency's Risk Management Plan requirements, 123 could affect 1 million people in the case of a toxic release, and another 750 could affect 100,000 or more people.
Kerry's running mate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, is a co-sponsor of a bill by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., that would impose tough new security rules on chemical plants.
The bill would require major plants to assess their vulnerabilities and make security upgrades.
Another area of difference is the general distribution of homeland security money. Currently, funds are distributed according to state-by-state formulas that direct money to all areas of the country, regardless of population.
Kerry favors putting money where the greatest threats exist to the most people. "We would certainly want to look at the distribution of homeland security funds and make sure they are appropriately aligned," said Rand Beers, Kerry's national security adviser and a former high-ranking anti-terror adviser to President Bush, though he declined to lay out a plan and warned that Congress will have the final say.
Kerry also criticizes Bush for not quickly getting first responders' money to local fire and police departments and not drawing up a railways security strategy.
The president's defenders on Capitol Hill are quick to back up Bush, however.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said this week, for example, that nuclear security would be enhanced by the transfer of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which Bush favors but Kerry opposes on environmental and transportation-safety grounds.
He also said the state needs Washington to continue to fund rural states' needs.
"We've got a lot of needs in this part of the country," said Coleman, who talked about the state's border with Canada, the Mall of America and Mayo Clinic.
He said Bush has been successful in protecting Americans through a combination of homeland defense and in military operations overseas.
"The president has presented a realistic but strong vision of increasing domestic preparedness, understanding that you can never guarantee full safety, you can never guarantee absolute safety."