The following editorial appeared in today's Washington Post:
The homeland security spending fight between the president and congressional Democrats that has now been suspended until next year was never mainly about homeland security spending. Nor was it merely maneuvering for political advantage. Rather, it was to a large extent an anticipatory fight in code about the shape of next year's budget.
Democrats wanted to increase appropriations for law enforcement, public health, various other forms of domestic security and aid to New York City. Opponents sought to deride much of this as pork-barrel spending in anti-terrorist disguise, but it wasn't. Most of the money was to cover costs already incurred or to pay for protective steps on which there is wide agreement -- strengthening the Customs Service and other agencies that police the borders, improving the capability of federal and state agencies to respond to bioterrorism, providing additional transportation and postal security. The administration itself has said that many of these costs will have to be met, which made it doubly hard for congressional Republicans to follow the president's lead and refuse to support the funding in the current bills. But the administration wants to wait until next year.
It makes several arguments in behalf of doing so, the main one being that the needs aren't yet clear, nor how best to meet them, and in the meantime there is money enough in the system that no genuinely urgent need will go unmet. The Democrats tried to meet that objection by making the appropriations contingent; the president would only have to spend the money if he saw fit.
The administration still objected. It's hard to believe that an orderly planning process was its only reason. If the money is part of next year's budget, it becomes a wedge for reducing other spending. The administration will argue -- has already begun to do so -- that without such reductions for other than defense, total spending will go too high. In fact, it already wanted to reduce such spending; the cost of homeland security becomes an argument for a pre-existing agenda.
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