Don't Cut Funding For Our Police And Firefighters
President Abraham Lincoln, who led our nation through a time of great crisis, warned us that a house divided against itself cannot stand.
Ironically, as we face an uncertain fiscal future today, the House Majority seeks to draw the line of division on how we protect the American people. In its first act of fiscal budgeting House Republican Leadership, through its Continuing Resolution for 2011, has decided that our local police and fire fighters are somehow not a national security or homeland security priority.
As a Co-Chair of the Law Enforcement Caucus and an original member of the Homeland Security Committee, I have always believed that police and firefighters – our nation’s first responders – constitute both our first and last line of defense for the American people here at home. That’s why I was so disappointed when I learned that the CR proposed by the Republican Leadership treated these public safety officers as being "non-security" discretionary spending and subjected them to drastic cuts.
The resolution contains billions of dollars in cuts to many essential domestic programs, but it actually increases defense spending over the next year under the justification of being "national security" spending. My answer to this inequity is clear: Our brave local police and firefighters, who protect our streets day and night, are the very essence of our national security. The Republican Leadership seems to miss the point that real homeland security begins on our streets.
The resolution we will vote on today proposes to zero-out federal funding for Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant programs. These programs directly support public safety jobs by helping our local communities hire, rehire or retain police and firefighters.
The resolution would also drastically cut funds for the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, which I was proud to author more than ten years ago, and provides assistance to local fire departments to purchase life-saving equipment and training. Combined, the Republican Leadership proposes to cut these public safety programs by more than $1.1 billion at a time when local budgets are being squeezed and communities are being forced to lay off their police and firefighters.
In addition to passing with broad bipartisan support, these programs were all authorized under the last Republican-controlled Congress. The steady increase in funding over the years is a reflection of their necessity and success. The AFG program has provided nearly $5.6 billion in funding to local fire departments since it’s authorization in 2001. The first independent evaluation of the AFG program released by the US Fire Administration concluded that the program was "highly effective in improving the readiness and capabilities of firefighters across the nation."
Likewise, the COPS program has provided $12.4 billion in funding to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire 117,000 officers in its lifetime. The Government Accountability Office reported that between 1993 and 2000, COPS obligations contributed to a 1.3 percent decrease in the overall crime rate and a 2.5 percent decrease in the violent crime rate. A responsive police department is not a luxury – less cops on the beat equals more crime on our streets, it’s as simple as that.
As a member of the House Budget Committee, I am working hard towards the goal of getting our deficit under control, but it should not come at the cost of national security. With this imperative in mind, I worked with my colleagues to introduce amendments that would restore the funding to our first responders. I am proud to report that both amendments passed with broad bipartsian support despite the objections of the Republican leadership.
Regardless of our differences, I always thought one thing we did agree upon was that protecting the American people must be the number one priority of our government. The resolution offered by Republican Leadership does not meet that test. I hope my colleagues from both sides will of the aisle will join together to restore these public safety funds and taking up the call of President Lincoln will unite our House for a safer and more prosperous future.