Homeland Security Shouldn’t Be Cheap

I don’t know why opponents of increased homeland-security spending won’t simply say what they’re thinking: If we’re not too careful in how we appropriate homeland-security dollars, we’ll simply make people dependent on government handouts. And, of course, who knows how much of that money will line the pockets of the union bosses and big-city (read: Democratic) political hacks?

Come to think of it, they are saying just that, although the language isn’t as blunt. Worse, some are suggesting that anybody who thinks we ought to spend more money on border patrols and the like are downright soft on bin Laden-ism. In their world, every dollar spent to make nuclear-power plants safer, or to hire more customs agents, is a dollar taken away from our boys (and girls) on foreign fields. Republican Representative Sue Myrick of North Carolina made that very argument on the House floor in explaining why she opposes both further aid to New York and greater spending for homeland security in general. The Bush administration seems to agree. While it looks to wriggle out of its $20 billion commitment to rebuilding New York, it is also resisting Congressional pressure to spend an additional $7 billion on various security measures at home.

Democrats, who are the main advocates of increased spending for domestic security, don’t help their cause any by questioning the patriotism of Republican tax-cutters. But the Democrats themselves are being portrayed, yet again, as somehow less than muscular on matters of defense, simply because they actually agree with the President’s assertion that this war is and will be like no other we’ve fought. In keeping with that belief, they argue that beefing up the Immigration and Naturalization Service would seem as important as making sure the Air Force has plenty of smart bombs. After all, the enemy isn’t just over there. He’s here–or he’s trying to get here.

The arguments against increased homeland-security spending sound drearily similar to those marshaled against any other domestic-spending initiative. And those who advocate such spending find themselves fending off suggestions that they’re simply looking to deliver pork-barrel spending to dubious Democratic constituencies.

Republicans like House whip Tom DeLay believe so dogmatically in the essential wastefulness of domestic spending that they’re incapable of adjusting to post-Sept. 11 priorities. They’ve spent years railing against wasteful Democratic spending schemes (as opposed to efficient Republican giveaways) and the evils of big government. Now they live and legislate in a world in which big government is not the problem, as Ronald Reagan insisted, but the solution, a world in which domestic-spending schemes are not a matter of social policy but of national defense. What to do?

Knees jerk, and federal agencies charged with securing our borders, tracking bad guys and sniffing out deadly plots find they’re having a hard time getting the money they need. The Customs Service wants to add more than 1,500 agents to beef up security along the Canadian border and at seaports. The latter issue ought to resonate with New Yorkers: The Port of New York and New Jersey is one of the nation’s busiest, as evidenced by the great stacks of containers in Bayonne, Port Newark and Howland Hook Terminal on Staten Island. While even 100,000 new customs agents couldn’t guarantee that one of those containers won’t contain a bomb, dirty or otherwise, a few more could and should make us a little more secure. But the Bushies wish to spend zero dollars to expand the Customs Service.

Similarly, the administration apparently sees no reason to expand nuclear inspections overseas, even though we are told nightly that terrorists may have gotten or may soon get material from old Soviet nuclear plants. Bombs laced with radioactive waste may be coming to a port near you, but at least we won’t be wasting tax dollars on some Democrat-inspired hiring hall for layabouts.

Mr. Bush is right: It’s a new war and a new world. Security can’t be measured in the number of Army corps we have on the ground, the strength of our reserves or the combat-readiness of our equipment. Nor is the size of the defense budget necessarily an indicator of our commitment to national security.

In fighting this new war, we have to assume that an enemy column is operating here already, and that it anticipates reinforcements either through stealth (a late-night crossing from Quebec into the north country of New York) or simply by walking off a jetliner with a parcel of phony identification papers. We have to assume that on some waterfront thousands of miles away, terrorists are trying to deliver a deadly parcel to an American seaport.

Intelligence gathering might prevent such attacks, but the intelligence community has been known to fail us on occasion. Our second line of protection, then, is a strong and vigilant homeland defense.

That requires the services of a bigger government. And in the eyes of some, that’s the problem.