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Commentary: Iraq War Offense Drains Homeland Defense Funding

Saturday, June 24, 2006

This week, Mayor Bloomberg went to Washington to argue for homeland security funding based on risk. The Senate debated Iraq war withdrawal resolutions. WNYC's Brian Lehrer says the two stories were reported separately, but should really be seen together.

LEHRER: The headlines from Mayor Bloomberg's testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee were about New York losing anti-terrorism grant money, while places like Omaha got more. Silly to be sure. As the mayor pointed out, New York doesn't ask for agriculture grants, because we have no farms. What we have plenty of is targets.

But the anti-terror money pie is not just being redistributed between NY and Omaha , the whole pie is shrinking...while the Iraq war costs ever more billions.

The total amount allocated for the controversial grant program is 740 million dollars this year, compared to 855 million a year ago. Is that because anyone thinks the Homeland Security threat is waning in New York and elsewhere? Hardly. It's because money is scarce, and the government is in debt up to the treasury secretary's eyeballs.

But at the same time, Congress keeps throwing more and more money at Iraq. Just last week, it approved another 68 Billion dollars for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Even staunch opponents of the war voted for it. Here's NJ Senator Robert Menendez on my weekday call-in show.

MENENDEZ: I voted yes. While I voted against the war, I find it difficult to leave men and women in the field without the support they need.

Menendez, by the way, was one of just 13 senators who voted for John Kerry's Iraq withdrawal amendment on Thursday. That was the measure to require US troops to be gone from Iraq by next July. Senator Lautenberg from NJ also voted for it. Our other local senators โ€“ Schumer, Clinton, Lieberman and Dodd โ€“ all voted against.

So we'll continue to pour more and more tax dollars into Iraq for at least another year while money to protect our subways and skyscrapers gets cut. Also on my call-in show, Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin, often a supporter of the Bush Administration said this is no coincidence. It represents the Bush approach to fighting terror.

GOODWIN: I think that the Bush administration has been kind of a one trick pony. They only believe in offense. They don't want to play enough defense here at home. I think it's a fundamental mistake. I don't understand it.

But simple statements of context like that were nowhere to be heard from the lips of Mayor Bloomberg or any of the Congresspeople who received him so warmly at Wednesday's hearing: not even from our local representatives on the committee, like Nita Lowy, Bill Pascrell and Peter King, who all sounded so passionate about New York getting shortchanged. You'd have the thought the whole debate was between people in New York and cows in Nebraska. What a distraction.

WNYC's Brian Lehrer. You can hear his call-in show weekday mornings at 10.

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