WASHINGTON Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday spurned the Obama administration's request for funds to buy 275 additional airport full-body scanners and to hire personnel to run them.
The scanners generate a revealing image of a person so security personnel can determine if someone is trying to hide a bomb or other weapon underneath clothing. But they have provoked criticism from privacy and civil liberties advocates.
Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, unveiling their proposed fiscal 2012 budget for the Department of Homeland Security, said they rejected President Barack Obama's requested $76 million for the scanners and personnel.
The bill "reflects the unquestioned need for fiscal restraint, reduces spending wherever possible, and prioritizes taxpayers' limited dollars toward the vital security programs that will have an immediate impact on our nation's safety and security," said Representative Robert Aderholt, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee's Homeland Security subcommittee.
So far, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration TSA.L has deployed about 500 of the full-body scanners at 78 airports in the United States. The agency also has funds to buy 500 more and hire 250 to staff them.
The machines purchased so far by TSA are made by L-3 Communications Holdings Inc (LLL.N) and Rapiscan Systems, a unit of OSI Systems Inc (OSIS.O).
The Republican measure would give the TSA a small funding boost for fiscal 2012, $125 million over the current fiscal year to $7.8 billion, but that was below Obama's $8.1 billion request. Fiscal 2012 begins on October 1.
The Republican legislation still must be approved at the committee level and by the full House, which is controlled by the Republicans. The Democratic-controlled Senate also must approve the legislation before it would go to Obama to sign.
"As the threat of a terrorist attack still looms large, I find it unfortunate that the Republican-drafted bill ignores so many key investments on the domestic front that are critical to our security here at home," said Representative Norm Dicks, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
U.S. officials have been increasingly worried about attempts by the Yemeni offshoot of al Qaeda known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack the U.S. aviation system, including trying to send bombs via U.S. cargo carriers.
The Republican bill also offers an extra $10 million for cargo security.
Republicans have been pressing Obama for spending cuts as the U.S. budget deficit and the federal debt grow. The Obama administration has acknowledged the need for cuts, but security is usually one area that is spared big hits.
The Republican-backed legislation would provide a $443 million increase over last year for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which has been under pressure to do more to interdict guns, drugs and illegal immigrants along the U.S. border with Mexico.
The legislation also would prohibit the Obama administration from transferring any detainees held at the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to the United States for any reason, including prosecution.
Some of Obama's fellow Democrats have supported such a restriction but the White House has strongly opposed it.
(Editing by Will Dunham)