Capitol Hill (CNSNews.com) - Members of the House Democratic Task Force on Homeland Defense are criticizing the Bush administration for not acting quickly enough to protect the country from potential terrorist threats.
"The president has done an outstanding job in taking the offense to the terrorists and those who harbor them," task force Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Thursday. "But today we must ask, with all due respect: What about homeland security?"
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), a member of the task force, lays the blame for the alleged "inaction" squarely at the feet of one Bush administration official.
"Tom Ridge is the director of the Office of Homeland Security. He has been there for months," she said. "My question is: Where is his plan?"
The group is using their criticism as a springboard for its $24 billion homeland defense legislation.
The "United States Security Act of 2001" would spend $2.1 billion on public health response to terrorist threats, $9.1 billion on transportation security, and $2.7 billion to protect oil refineries, power and chemical plants, nuclear facilities, telecommunications systems, and federal buildings.
An additional $2 billion would be earmarked for law enforcement and prevention programs for the U.S. Postal Service, Customs Service, Border Patrol, and for "civilian defense teams" to supplement local law enforcement agencies in need of assistance.
Task force members, like Texas Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, say the legislation will give Ridge both authority and focus to better do his job.
"It gives to him the ability to coordinate with agencies around the nation, particularly federal agencies, and develop a plan," she said.
But the proposal also gives liberal Democrats something they've sought since the summer of 2001; a way to slow down the implementation of the tax cuts ushered through Congress by President Bush in the summer of 2001.
"We pay for it by suspending the tax rate cuts of the top three tax rates until 2007," Menendez said.
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says he's not surprised that Democrats would use the specter of fighting terrorism to launch an attack on tax cuts.
"It's the obvious cheap shot. The Democrats were very bitter that Bush's tax cut passed," he said. "They've always viewed your tax dollars as their money."
But Menendez and the other members of the task force believe they are taking the "fiscally responsible" approach to funding anti-terrorism measures.
"I certainly hope that we have clearly set a standard for the administration and the Congress to respond to security," he said, "and we're going to be working with Senate Democrats, as well, in this regard."
Norquist says anti-terrorism proposals deserve careful and deliberate consideration, but rolling back tax cuts in the name of homeland security is unacceptable.
"We are going to see the fight against terrorism used as an excuse for a whole bunch of stuff," he said. "This is a massive tax increase and the answer is, 'No.'"