WASHINGTON President Bush said yesterday that he wants to nearly double the nation”s spending on homeland security, telling an audience of mayors that his request for $37.7 billion signals the start of a long-term commitment to an antiterrorism campaign that will rely heavily on local police, firefighters and other “first responders.”

Paul Wong
In a speech yesterday, President Bush unveiled his plan to ask for $37.7 billion to increase homeland and national security spending.<br><br>AP PHOTO

Reflecting the changing priorities brought on by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush said he will ask Congress to set aside $3.5 billion to train, equip and aid police, fire and emergency medical technicians, a tenfold jump from the current fiscal year.

Although the allotment for first responders represents the biggest increase in the homeland security budget, it isn”t the largest expense. Border security leads the list, with $11 billion, according to sources familiar with the proposal.

The package also includes about $6 billion for bioterrorism prevention, including medical research of vaccines $5 billion for aviation security $1 billion for intelligence systems and more than $11 billion for a variety of other programs, including making structural improvements and shoring up security and at government buildings, the sources said.

Bush mostly confined his remarks yesterday in the East Room of the White House to the overall size of the spending, repeatedly comparing it with the $19.5 billion spent on homeland defense in the current fiscal year. He revealed only the first-responder part of his agenda, tailoring his presentation for the mayors, who have been clamoring for help with unprecedented costs.

“This is a two-front war,” Bush told 300 mayors here for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Overseas we”re fighting, and at home we”re fighting.”

Appearing at the White House with Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Bush promised that his fiscal 2003 budget request to Congress marks “the beginning of a homeland defense initiative which is going to last throughout my administration.”

The announcement came as the White House continued a push to build momentum leading into next Tuesday”s State of the Union address and the subsequent budget process.

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