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Dems now proposing more anti-terrorism funding for localities | (KRT) In the two years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush's administration has sent $7.8 billion to state and local first-responders to prepare for future attacks on the homeland.

The Democratic candidates for president want to devote billions more.

Are the billions spent enough? Or do local police, firefighters and other first-on-the-scene emergency personnel still lack what they need to be prepared?

"I don't think at this point we can say anything's enough," said Sam Simon, director of public safety for St. Louis. "We're not talking about just response and recovery. We're talking about deterrence and prevention (of terrorism). If somebody wanted to know, `Do you need more money?' I would always say yes."

So as the president touts the billions his administration has spent for the cause, most Democratic candidates are promoting billions more for the locals as key to their homeland security strategy. With Bush's post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism as one of his greatest political strengths, the Democrats are seeking to distinguish themselves on aspects of the Bush strategy unpopular with many Democratic voters.

Among them: Going to war in Iraq without United Nations' approval. The expansion of federal law enforcement power through the Patriot Act. And the need for more cash among local agencies that have stretched their budgets responding to federal terror alerts.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean wants to spend $5 billion more for first-responder equipment and gear. Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman prefers $7.5 billion - plus $7 billion more to hire firefighters. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards wants $1.5 billion to hire more local first-responders. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who is shadowed by firefighter union members at every campaign stop, wants to give states the money to hire 100,000 new police officers and 100,000 new firefighters.

James Jay Carafano, a senior research fellow for national security and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation, is skeptical of the promises.

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"I think right now a big increase in Homeland Security would not only be wasteful, it wouldn't be productive," Carafano said. "For example, if you have guys running around training on responding to a dirty bomb threat and that's not a credible threat, not only are they wasting time, but people may be buying equipment they don't really need. So you've taken away the resources from doing something that might be more productive."

Stephen Flynn, senior fellow for national security for the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that more financial attention should be devoted to homeland security efforts.

"We designed our national security apparatus for an away game. To a large extent, the response to 9/11 by President Bush has been to continue that tradition," said Flynn, who said Democrats have backed that strategy, but are now issuing critiques as local governments complain.

"In the beginning, everybody was going through patriotic silence. There was an expectation that once the federal government gets its act together, the federal spigot will be turned on. It took them two years to realize there's nothing coming, or very little," he said.

George Washington University political science Professor Forrest Maltzman said the campaign-trail talk of spending more money locally is good politics.

"Those areas have lots of local support," Maltzman said. "This has been a fairly typical pattern where people in Congress are supporting more money for first-responders - and the president is putting more into federal expenditures."

Similarly, Maltzman said, some presidential contenders' pledges to focus National Guard troops on activities more at home also play well with the locals. Dean wants to sink some of his $5 billion for National Guard work on homeland security duty. Kerry has a plan to re-train the National Guard so its "central mission" will be to aid local communities in the event of an attack at home.

"People in the National Guard are not happy going to Iraq right now, so, politically, this is a popular thing," Maltzman said.

Nor is the war in Iraq popular among Democratic voters. Exit polls from last week's New Hampshire Democratic primary showed 63 percent oppose the war in Iraq. While Bush has said toppling Saddam Hussein's regime made Americans safer, Democrats don't agree, and all of the candidates but Lieberman have echoed their sentiments.

Lieberman has proudly defended his vote for the Iraq war resolution and for his vote for the $87 billion special budget for Iraq and Afghanistan. Edwards and Kerry, who voted for the war resolution but against the $87 billion plan, say Bush misused the authority they gave him by failing to secure international support. Dean criticizes them for voting for the resolution in the first place.

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark and civil rights activist Al Sharpton also oppose the war. Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, the most antiwar candidate of them all, is the only candidate from Congress that actually voted against the Iraq resolution. He wants to create a Department of Peace whose mission ranges from averting domestic abuse to changing the world view that "war is inevitable."

All the Democratic candidates, even Lieberman, criticize Bush for going forward with the Iraq war without U.N. approval.

They all also are in accord on criticizing the Bush administration - and particularly Attorney General John Ashcroft - for its aggressive use of new law enforcement powers under the Patriot Act. The law, passed after the terrorist attacks, widely expanded government power to detain, search and monitor people targeted in terrorism probes.

Many of the law's provisions were noncontroversial. But others raised civil liberties concerns, such as one provision allowing FBI agents to secure warrants for business or library records without probable cause the target committed a crime. That created such a furor that Ashcroft issued a statement to say it had never been used.

Another controversial provision is one that allows agents to delay notice when they carry out a search warrant on someone or seize their property.

Kerry wants to limit the delayed notification to no more than seven days after the search. Clark wants to repeal it. Kerry and Edwards - who both voted for the Patriot Act - want to repeal the part that allows a warrant for records without probable cause. Kucinich, who voted against the Patriot Act, has sponsored a bill to replace it with a version that he says is more respectful of civil rights. Dean also wants revisions.

Both Lieberman, who voted for the law, and Sharpton have called for a review.

Bush wants to expand powers to allow federal law enforcement agents to issue administrative subpoenas to seize records quickly in terrorism cases without grand jury approval. He also wants to ban bail for people charged with terrorist crimes; and wants to make the death penalty available as punishment for more terrorism crimes.

That's unlikely to happen this election year, since the House Judiciary committee chairman first wants to review use of the Patriot Act's current powers. But efforts to roll back the law will face obstacles as well.

Ashcroft sent a letter Thursday to the Senate Judiciary chairman, saying one such bill sponsored by Sens. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., would "undermine our ongoing campaign to detect and prevent catastrophic terrorists attacks."

"If (the bill) is presented in its current form to the president, the president's senior advisers will recommend that it be vetoed," Ashcroft wrote.

Kerry is a co-sponsor of the bill.

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© 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services