By LARA JAKES JORDAN
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON- The Senate has agreed to boost spending at U.S. ports and borders by nearly $1 billion (euro790 million) next year to pay for additional security and staffing.
The funds would bring Homeland Security Department spending to $32.7 billion (euro25.7 billion) for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, about $1.7 billion (euro1.3 billion) more than what President George W. Bush requested. The money was approved as the Bush administration heralded budget deficit estimates for 2006 that are lower than expected.
More than a third of the new dollars - all the $350 million (euro275 million) designated for border security - would come from increased immigration-related fees. The Senate also approved spending an additional $648 million (euro508.8 million) for port security.
U.S. ports handle 95 percent of the nation's overseas trade, but Homeland Security last year could fund only about one-quarter of the security projects requested, said Sen. Robert Byrd.
"And that is paper thin - paper thin - security," said Byrd, who offered the spending boost that the Senate passed by voice vote.
The additional funds would pay for:
-$251 million (euro197 million) worth of inspection equipment at seaports and rail border crossings, and to hire cargo inspectors.
-$220 million (euro172.75 million) to replace Border patrol helicopters and other surveillance aircraft.
-$207 million (euro162.5 million) for the Coast Guard to continue upgrading its aging fleet.
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-$190 million (euro149 million) in port security grants.