The chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States yesterday sharply criticized senators for blocking a bill that would increase federal security dollars for target-rich states like New York.
Thomas Kean, who earlier this week called current formulas for allocating security funds "scandalous," focused his attack yesterday on a handful of senators from small states who are resisting a proposal that would lower the amount of money that goes to their states.
"Al Qaeda and bin Laden have been pretty specific about who they want to attack - either the financial strength of the country or our symbols of democracy," Mr. Kean said in an interview, "And that doesn't translate into farmland - that's New York City and Washington, and possibly some of our ports. Not to al locate our funds to meet that threat is crazy, and the fact that Congress hasn't done it yet is, I think, obscene."
The House of Representatives passed a bill in May by a vote of 405 to 10 that reduces to .25% from .75% the minimum amount of money that each state receives from the total pool of federal Homeland Security grants.
But the chairman of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, Senator Collins, a Republican of Maine, has resisted allowing a similar plan to reach the floor of the Senate.
With the timetable for negotiations running out, Ms. Collins has shown little sign of retreat.
Ms. Collins did not respond to numerous requests for an interview this week. Her spokeswoman, Jen Burita, told The New York Sun on Wednesday that Ms. Collins was in Washington but unavailable for comment all day. Asked when she might be available, Ms. Burita suggested calling back Thursday. On Thursday, she put a legislative aide on the phone instead. When asked again for Ms. Collins, Ms. Burita declined.
The legislative aide, Michael Bopp, defended the Senate's proposal by noting that it guarantees smaller states enough money each year to meet certain federally mandated safety standards. He also questioned the rationale for the House version and said small states should not be singled out as having more potential for abuse.
"Some people say you're going to give money to Montana and North Dakota and they're going to waste it," Mr. Bopp, said. "But it's not just small states that do it. Wasteful spending take place in big cities too."
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King, a Republican of New York, said he approached Ms. Collins at a White House Christmas Party earlier this week and suggested they sit down to negotiate. A meeting between the two has been scheduled for Monday.
Mr. King, who took over the committee in September, said he is upset at what he views as a disparity between the high-risk states and the low-risk states but that he does not want to sour a potential compromise by pointing fingers.
"I'm very upset by the issue itself," he said. "I'm upset by what's happening. I don't know Susan Collins very well, and people can get locked into the interests of their state. I can understand that. But I don't want bad blood to prevent a deal from happening."
Ms. Burita, in Ms. Collins' office, blamed Mr. King's staff for a delay in negotiations. She said tensions between the two staffs kept meaningful conversations from taking place. "It took a while before he even had people on staff who could even return a phone call," she said. "We've been trying for a long time to come up with a compromise. To say it's being held up by Senator Collins is just completely inaccurate."
A Republican congressman from Staten Island, Rep. Vito Fossella, decried the Senate proposal as a model of pork-barrel spending. But he too declined to name names.
"It's emblematic of what the mood is in Congress," Mr. Fossella said. "That everybody's got to get their piece of meat. I've said all along that sooner or later the American people will not and should not stand for doling out security dollars like everything else."