My Letter to President Bush

Today, I sent a letter to President Bush urging him to reconsider the ill-advised veto threat of the Fiscal Year 2008 Homeland Security Appropriations legislation. With threats to our nation growing, I am pressing the President to work with the Senate and to invest real dollars in the tools and technology that will secure our homeland and protect Americans from terrorist attacks. As Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, I have worked with my colleagues to craft a strong bill that funds port security, aviation security, border security, immigration enforcement, and rejects irresponsible cuts in first responder grants.

My letter to the President reads:

Dear Mr. President:

"We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al-Qa'ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities . . . .[W]e judge that al-Qa'ida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here. As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment."

Those are the words contained in the declassified National Intelligence Estimate, released yesterday. Those are the words written by the best intelligence analysts in our government. Those are the words that should force our government -- both in the Executive and Legislative branches -- to reevaluate the priority that we are giving to funding to stop terrorist attacks against this country.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations has approved legislation investing $37.6 billion in the nation's highest-priority security projects. These dollars would be put to use immediately, toughening border security with new agents, better technology, and stricter immigration enforcement to close gaps that terrorists could exploit (as did the 9/11 hijackers). These dollars would help to shut down the dangerous gaps in security at U.S. seaports. The legislation would make serious investments in security at the nation's airports, deploying new canine teams and screening technology at airports nationwide to detect explosives and radiation in cargo loaded onto passenger aircraft. The funds would provide critical support for police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical teams -- the first line of response to any attack.

Unfortunately, you have threatened to veto the homeland security funding legislation. In light of the new analysis from our intelligence experts and the warnings that they and Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff have voiced, I urge you to reconsider this veto threat.

With the concerns outlined by your Administration's top experts, and with the glaring gaps that continue to exist in our homeland security protections, we must come together in the best interests of the American people. It is their lives and their futures in danger. Posturing will not protect the people from attack. Smart investments in their security will.

Just last week, the Secretary of Homeland Security was quoted as saying that it was his "gut feeling" that the United States faces an increased threat of attack this summer. On the heels of the Secretary's warnings, the Administration released its latest National Intelligence Estimate concerning the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland. I will quote from the report:

"We judge the US Homeland will face a persistent and evolving terrorist threat over the next three years. The main threat comes from Islamic terrorist groups and cells, especially al-Qa'ida, driven by their undiminished intent to attack the Homeland and a continued effort by these terrorist groups to adapt and improve their capabilities . . . .[W]e judge that al-Qa'ida will intensify its efforts to put operatives here. As a result, we judge that the United States currently is in a heightened threat environment.... We assess that al-Qa'ida's Homeland plotting is likely to continue to focus on prominent political, economic, and infrastructure targets with the goal of producing mass casualties, visually dramatic destruction, significant economic aftershocks, and/or fear among the US population."

Those are the words written by the best intelligence analysts in our government. Those are the words that should force compel our government -- both in the Executive and Legislative branches -- to reevaluate the place a far higher priority that we are giving on providing the resources necessary to stop prevent terrorist attacks against this country.

In every State of the Union Address since the attacks on 9/11, the President has raised the specter of another attack. This past January, he said, "Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy . . . I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not."

Yet, despite his warnings, the President's budget fails to commit significant resources to address these dangers. Too often, the Department of Homeland Security settles for security that looks good on paper but leaves serious gaps in the defense of our homeland. There is too much rhetoric on homeland security and too little action - too much wind and not enough wisdom.

I am saddened to realize that, despite hearing receiving troubling new information about our nation's vulnerability to a future terrorist attack, the President has not retracted his veto threat. However, he did make a point of criticizing the Senate for not doing its part to pass appropriations legislation. I think this is baloney. The Senate is doing its part to protect the American people. Issuing criticism and veto threats does nothing to help protect the nation. The White House certainly does a lot of talking, but talk is cheap. Security isn't. The President needs to realize that securing the homeland cannot be done with nickels and dimes.

The Senate will begin debate on a responsible Homeland Security funding bill next week. I urge the President to reconsider his reckless veto threats. If he really believes, as I do, that government's most important job is keeping our country safe, he should work with the Senate to make good on that solemn responsibility.