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US likely to restore transit security cuts

WASHINGTON -- Three weeks before London's bus and subway bombings, a Senate committee voted to slash spending on mass transit security in the United States, a decision likely to be reversed when Congress returns next week.

At a minimum, the Senate will restore the $50 million cut, G. William Hoagland, top budget aide to Senate majority leader Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, said yesterday.

There is pressure for a lot more, although adding to rail and transit security programs means cutting elsewhere in the Homeland Security Department's $32 billion budget for next year. That places severe limits on what Congress can do, at least if it plays by its budget rules.

Despite the March 2004 bombing of Madrid's subway system, US officials have been consumed with preventing a repeat of the airliner hijackings that produced the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

In a stroke of bad timing, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted last month to slash money for rail and transit security grants to state and local government by a third from the $150 million devoted to them this year. As of May, none of the money had been distributed by the Homeland Security Department.

The House would match current funding in a bill it passed in May. President Bush proposed bundling rail, transit, and bus security grants into one $600 million program that would also fund security improvements at ports and other critical facilities such as chemical plants. Both the House and Senate have rejected that idea.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, will move to double the level of rail and subway security funds to $200 million. But there are other proposals to add as much as $1 billion, which would require a difficult-to-pass waiver of budget rules.

''Following the attack on Madrid's rail system, the terrible terrorist attacks in London is our second wake-up call to greatly improve our rail and mass transit security here in America," Schumer said. ''It is clear that we're not doing close to enough."

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