By Maria Sacchetti
Senator John F. Kerry blasted House Republicans yesterday for taking a "meat ax'' to crucial items in the proposed federal budget, including education, research, infrastructure, and public safety, and he vowed to continue to fight for unions in the United States.
Kerry, a Democrat, received a standing ovation from the board members of the national Fraternal Order of Police, the world's largest police organization, at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.
The FOP endorsed Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona in the last presidential election, but now members say they are deeply concerned about the Republican-led House's plans to slash anticrime programs in the federal budget.
Kerry said Republicans are attempting to dismantle a program he helped spearhead in 1994, with GOP support, to put more than 100,000 additional police officers on the streets. He said crime decreased 1.5 percent since then, and violent crime dropped 2.5 percent.
"Well, I didn't know that we had ended crime in America,'' Kerry told several dozen current and retired organization members. "But some of our Republican friends evidently think that none of this matters. I mean, none of it. We're caught up now in one of the most ridiculous moments that I've ever seen in all the time that I've been in public life.''
But Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party and chair of the Republican Town Committee in Holliston, said in a phone interview later that the nation is facing a serious deficit and needs to cut funding. She said the problem resides with left-wing politicians such as Kerry who create government programs filled with "bloat and waste.''
"They're the ones who have the political ideology that says that the feds have to be involved in everything and that means money,'' she said. "We cannot continue to operate with deficits this high.''
In his speech, Kerry acknowledged that budget cuts will be inevitable to stabilize the nation's finances, but he said the United States must continue to make investments that propel the nation forward. He warned that America is falling behind other nations in Internet access, the number of young people earning college degrees, and even in the quality of train systems.
"We've got a bunch of ideological people who have suddenly swept in on people's disappointment and anger -- which is understandable. I share it, but the way to respond to it is not to come in with an ideological response which takes a hatchet, a meat ax, which cuts away at things without regard to what the impact is going to be in terms of the multiplier effect in our economy,'' said Kerry, who chairs the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
Kerry said a controversial new Wisconsin law that limits the bargaining rights of most public employees reflected a long effort to reduce labor rights, but he vowed to continue to support the right to collective bargaining.
"They want to destroy the ability of people to come together and bargain,'' he said. "I say that in the United States we are not going to let that happen.''
After the speech, police union officials said they were concerned that police layoffs would threaten public safety and the security of officers on the job.
Chuck Canterbury, president of the national FOP, which represents more than 325,000 law enforcement officers across the United States, including 2,000 in Massachusetts, pointed to Camden, N.J., which laid off nearly half its police force in January and has since seen a rise in assaults, according to news reports.
Canterbury criticized the House of Representatives for failing to reach an agreement that would preserve safety and other programs.
"Republican or Democrat doesn't matter. The partisanship is just not moving America forward,'' he said. "Our members are worried about safety. . . . Nobody goes into law enforcement to become rich.''
Todd Bramwell, the president of the Massachusetts FOP chapter and a Norton police detective, said taxpayers benefit little from cutting police, since they have to then pay unemployment and other benefits. Then, he said, taxpayers are left with the risk of an increase in crime.
"The actual cost isn't really saving the taxpayers much money,'' he said.