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The House Homeland Security Committee last week approved a bill to make the funding formula smarter. The measure, sponsored by chairman Christopher Cox, a Republican from California, would eliminate the state minimum from most grants and distribute much of the money according to risk. "It can't be true that fighting terror is entirely in the eye of the beholder. There has to be some discipline," he says. In its 2005 budget, the White House has also requested that more money be shifted over to the grants for "high risk" cities.
But the Senate is not going to make reform easy. On Feb. 10, Leahy, a member of the powerful Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee and whose home state, Vermont, gets $54 per capita in federal funds, curtly reminded Ridge of the leverage that small states wield. "I have to say, I was really disappointed that the President's proposed budget ... drops the all-state minimum formula," he said. "That would affect all but, I think, one or two in this subcommittee. So it may be of more than passing interest." He then added, "I believe ... the Administration wants to shortchange rural states." Behind closed doors, the opposition is even more formidable. "World War III has broken out at meetings if we even talk about changing the formula," says a staff member in the Senate. Another Senate aide says the Cox bill is "going nowhere."
On the one-year anniversary this month of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Ridge addressed a Washington ballroom full of county executives. "The attacks of 9/11 required a whole new philosophy of how we secure the country," he said. So far, though, pork-barrel tradition is winning out in Washington. Change will require more people like Senator Judd Gregg, a Republican from New Hampshire, who has spoken out in favor of risk-based funding, even though it would almost certainly mean less money for his own state. "We know certain facts about the enemy. There are certain logical places where you're going to use weapons of mass destruction," he says, as if it's obvious. "This is a question of national security. Politics is irrelevant." --With reporting by Mitch Frank/New York