Chicago Sun-Times - Violence at Home Should Also Get President Bush's Attention
OP-ED: Violence at Home Should Also Get President Bush's Attention
BY SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
When the women and men fighting in Iraq return home, they will find violent crime is ravaging neighborhoods throughout our country.
Last year, there were more than 16,000 murders. Violent crime is rising faster than it has in 15 years -- in the Midwest alone, violent crime was up more than 5 percent. Law enforcement experts around the nation have called this crime problem "a gathering storm."
But all of this does not appear to be a priority for the Bush administration. While focusing exclusively on fighting terrorism abroad, they have left us vulnerable at home by slashing billions from federal crime-prevention assistance for state and local law enforcement and underfunding the FBI.
FBI Director Bob Mueller recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and stated that of the 10 most important priorities of the FBI, violent crime is ranked eighth. He has redirected nearly 1,000 FBI agents from crime to counter-terrorism cases and says the lack of agents has required the FBI to make "difficult choices in determining how to most effectively use the available agents."
This is a false choice. The FBI's focus on terrorism does not need to come at the expense of combatting local crime. The truth is we must protect Americans from all threats, whether it is the dirty bomb smuggled into the country in the belly of a cargo ship or the armed drug dealer on the street corner.
Local officials have repeatedly warned us of the danger of the gap left by the FBI pulling out of investigating violent crime. The FBI must stay engaged because it has the expertise many local agencies don't have. And because local crime is impacted by international drug trafficking and international street gangs, local crime must be addressed with a national solution.
We can easily afford to give our law enforcement officials the tools they need if we change our priorities. This year, the tax cut for Americans making more than $1 million will cost $60 billion, whereas the budget for the FBI is less than $6 billion.
These are the wrong priorities for America. The right priority is to invest the amount necessary to ensure the safety of our citizens.
To meet this challenge in a fiscally responsible way, I have proposed creating a Homeland Security Trust Fund, to set aside less than one year of the tax cut for millionaires and invest an additional $10 billion a year to improve public safety and domestic security.
With this additional money we can easily restore funding for state and local law enforcement and hire 1,000 new FBI agents. In addition, we could implement the 9/11 recommendations, harden soft targets within our critical infrastructure, and ensure that first responders can talk in the event of an emergency.
It will be the responsibility of the new Congress to provide these critical resources. Our servicemen and women need to return to hometowns where they can walk the streets in safety.
U.S. Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) is the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs.