Democrats criticize Bush on port security spending

Democrats criticize Bush on port security spending

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats continued their assault on the Bush administration's budget proposals Wednesday, accusing the president of turning his back on promises to protect ports.

"This administration is flirting with disaster with its lack of sustained and serious attention to port security," said Sen. Parry Murray, D-Wash., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee. "We cannot allow any port in this country to become a weak link in the security chain."

Murray, joined at a press conference by Democrats Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton of New York and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, said the administration is proposing $100 million to implement the Maritime Transportation Security Act. The program is projected to require $1.5 billion this year, according to the Coast Guard, Murray said.

"Last week the president's budget director told me the White House is committed to implementing the MTSA, but had a hard time squaring the administration's rhetoric with reality," Murray said.

Murray also said the administration proposed eliminating Operation Safe Commerce, a port security program expected to receive $17 million in fiscal 2005.

"Words won't help protect our nation's seaports, but Operation Safe Commerce, adequate support for our Coast Guard and funding for port security plans will make our ports safer," Murray said. "The president's budget abandons the progress that our government, ports and shippers have worked together to achieve. Our national security and economic stability depend on doing better than the president's request and that's what I'm fighting for."

The administration has argued that its budget proposes a $400 million increase for Customs, port security and the Coast Guard.