Bush Proposes Doubling
Homeland Security Budget


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Saying "we're still under attack,'' President Bush on Thursday proposed a 2003 homeland security budget of $37.7 billion -- almost double that of current levels -- to protect the United States against future attacks.
The budget, which Bush outlined in a White House speech to U.S. city mayors and county leaders on Thursday, would provide substantial increases in areas the White House said needs immediate attention in response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
These areas include police, firefighters and emergency medical teams; securing U.S. borders, combating bioterrorism, strengthening intelligence sharing, improving transportation security and supporting other national defense-related initiatives.
On Wednesday, Bush also proposed the largest budget increase in military spending for two decades amid his ongoing war on terrorism.
``We're still under attack,'' Bush said. ``They still want to come after us. These are evil people, that are relentless in their desire to hurt those who love freedom. And since we're the bastion of freedom, the beacon of freedom, we're their target.''
Bush proposed an $18.2 billion increase in the amount of money being spent this year on homeland security, from $19.5 billion to $37.7 billion, to better prepare the country in the wake of the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks which caught the United States completely off-guard.
The proposed increased spending comes amid political finger-pointing over a return to U.S. budget deficits as Democrats complain Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut last year has squeezed spending options.
The first installment of his homeland security budget plan would be $3.5 billion to beef up local police, fire and rescue departments.
Bush said his homeland security budget is the start of an initiative that will last throughout his administration and recognizes that ``the first minutes after an attack are the most hopeful for saving lives.''
He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be in charge of coordinating efforts with local governments.
``Even the best prepared states and localities lack adequate resources to respond to the full range of terrorist threats this country faces,'' the White House in a statement. ``Many areas have little or no capability to respond to terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction.''
The homeland security budget is part of an overall federal budget blueprint Bush will send to Congress for consideration in early February for the fiscal year that starts next October.
On Friday Bush is to announce border security provisions during a trip to Maine and provisions to combat bioterrorism and improve intelligence will be rolled out later, a White House official said.
Cities were expected to spend $2.6 billion extra for security between the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and the end of 2002, according to a survey distributed at the mayors conference.
Bush's proposal would give $2 billion to state and local agencies for buying protective clothing, chemical and biological detection systems and communications gear, the White House said.
Another $1.1 billion would go toward training firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians in combating chemical and biological threats.
There was also $245 million to fund training exercises and evaluate problems and potential improvements in emergency response systems, and $105 million to help state and local governments develop response plans for terror attacks.
Federal aid will continue year after year, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told the mayors on Wednesday. ``This is a major investment. We want to empower cities and states to build upon their first response capability, then we want to help you sustain it in the future.''
The government will give local agencies flexibility to use some of the money as they see fit, such as for overtime, Ridge said.

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