Obama seeks $200M to help cities host 9/11 trials


Published: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 30, 2010 at 6:01 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is proposing a $200 million fund to help pay for security costs in cities hosting the trials of accused terrorists such as Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

The money will be included in a budget plan for 2011 of roughly $3.7 trillion that President Barack Obama will submit to Congress on Monday, a congressional aide said Saturday. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the spending blueprint hasn't been announced.

The administration said late last year the trials would take place in federal court in lower Manhattan, near where the World Trade Center once stood. But there's growing opposition from the city, and it now seems likely that the White House will decide to hold the trial elsewhere.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has put the cost of tighter security at $216 million just for the first year after Mohammed and the others were to arrive from the U.S. military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. New York City officials had warned of massive gridlock in lower Manhattan due to the extraordinary security steps that would have been required to host the trial.

Options for alternative trial sites include the northern Virginia city of Alexandria, which hosted the 2006 sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, who pled guilty to helping plan the 9/11 attacks.

Republicans have led the opposition to hosting Guantanamo detainee trials in the U.S.

But other states such as Illinois would welcome the detainees since holding them is a source of federally funded jobs. Democrats controlling the state government want to sell a prison in the rural northwest portion of the state to the federal government to house Guantanamo detainees.

Despite his promise to take on the deficit, Obama's budget submission for the upcoming year is shaping up as a mostly stand-pat blueprint — like most presidents propose during election years.

"It is critical that we rein in the budget deficits we've been accumulating for far too long," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "Deficits that won't just burden our children and grandchildren, but could damage our markets, drive up our interest rates, and jeopardize our recovery right now."

But Obama's $3.7 trillion or so budget plan for 2011 to be released Monday won't offer politically dangerous cuts to costly federal benefit programs that are driving massive budget deficits, administration and congressional officials say. Nor will it propose broad-based tax hikes that could help close extraordinary budget deficits requiring the government to borrow almost 40 cents for every dollar it spends this year.

The president has instead announced a freeze on some domestic programs. He also wants to appoint a bipartisan commission to recommend a plan to deal with deficits that reached $1.4 trillion last year and are likely to approach — or exceed — $1 trillion for many years to come. But the savings from the freeze will be mostly symbolic, while the deficit task forces recommendations might not ever get a vote in Congress.

Obama's budget blueprint will instead mostly tinker at the edges of the budget — cutting lawmakers' pet projects, for instance — but fails to touch the real cost drivers of the deficit: spiraling health care costs from programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.

The White House is reprising a plan to reduce the benefits wealthier people take on itemized deductions like charitable gifts and mortgage interest. The idea could soon raise more than $30 billion a year, but is sure to be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.

The administration has already announced it will propose freezing, on average, the budgets of domestic agencies for three years, a difficult but largely symbolic step since it would save taxpayers just $10-15 billion next year.

Some Cabinet departments such as Homeland Security, Justice, Education and Transportation will enjoy budget increases, officials familiar with the budget say. But Commerce will face a big cut because of lower costs for the Census Bureau, while the Environmental Protection Agency would bear cuts in accounts funding local clean water efforts. The Interior Department would face a budget freeze.

The White House announced Saturday that Obama will propose to kill off or cut back 120 programs to save $20 billion. They include the Save America's Treasures program, originally designed to preserve "irreplaceable" U.S. cultural and heritage resources such as the bus in which Rosa Parks launched the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott. Lawmakers, however, often direct the money to refurbish projects such as old small-town movie houses and county courthouses.

Government documents projects a $708 billion budget for the Pentagon next year, which includes $159 billion for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's roughly equal to war estimates for the ongoing budget year that started in October.

The core Pentagon budget would receive about a 3 percent boost.

Just Saturday, a Treasury official said Obama's budget proposal will also call for the repeal of a widely ignored tax on the personal use of company-issued cell phones and other mobile devices. A 1989 law — passed when cell phones were considered a luxury — says that personal use of a company cell phone should be taxed like other fringe benefits, such as a company car.

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