Democrats warn that sequester cuts undermine fight against terror

Top House Democrats are warning that the sequester cuts are undermining the country's ability to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks like Monday's bombings in Boston.

"We know that first-responders are being cut. We know that community police [are] being cut. We know that healthcare services, especially emergency healthcare services, are being cut," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), head of the House Democratic Caucus, said Tuesday at a press briefing. "Why do we know that? Because we know the sequester ... demand[s] that we make these blind cuts across the board."

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Becerra said the sequester — $85 billion in automatic spending cuts that launched in March — will likely leave Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (D) facing a budget crunch in the wake of Monday's tragedy.

"Chances are the mayor in Boston is now having to figure out how to cover for the extra costs involved in having so many people out there, for security, for emergency medical assistance," Becerra said. "He's probably now had to supplant money from some other part of his budget. Whether it's community police, whether it's a vaccine for kids provided through the city, they've got to pay for it."

Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Congress must ensure that security funds are not only available, but are allocated wisely.

"It's important for Congress to understand that monies that are sent for the purpose of homeland security need to be done on a judgment basis as to where the threat is highest," Crowley said. "A city like New York, Los Angeles, Boston — in this particular case, on Patriots' Day, on one of the most watched marathons in the world — the resources need to be there."

A number of House lawmakers were quick to reject the notion that Washington's budget battle is in any way related to Monday's tragedy in Boston.

Rep. Rich Nugent (R-Fla.), a former sheriff, said "it's ridiculous" to make a connection between sequestration and the attacks; Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) delivered a similar message; and a Democratic lawmaker with a background in law enforcement shook his head in disbelief when he heard that high-ranking Democrats were linking the attack to sequestration. 

"No way," said the Democrat. "Who's making that accusation?"

President Obama on Monday vowed that local authorities would get all the resources they need to respond to the bombings.

"I’ve also spoken with Governor [Deval] Patrick and Mayor Menino, and made it clear that they have every single federal resource necessary to care for the victims and counsel the families," the president said from the White House.

Three people were killed and more than 170 injured Monday after a pair of bombs exploded within seconds of each other near the finish line of this year's running of Boston's storied marathon. Investigators have not announced any arrests or possible motivations behind the attacks.

Behind Obama, Democrats have long warned that federal cuts under the sequester would harm a number of domestic programs, including those related to law enforcement. 

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the House Democratic whip, said this week's Boston tragedy highlights the need for Congress to eliminate those automatic cuts and replace them with a more targeted strategy for deficit reduction.

"There are multiple reasons for ensuring that we invest in our security, both domestic and international security — that we invest in the education of our children, that we invest in growing jobs in America, and [that we] don't pursue an irrational, across-the-board policy of cutting the highest priorities and the lowest priorities by essentially the same percentage," Hoyer said during his weekly press briefing in the Capitol.

"So I think this is clearly another place where it's demonstrated why having the ability to address security concerns is important," he added. "I think this is another proof of that, if proof is needed, which I don't think, frankly, it is."

—Updated at 3:26 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.