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Senators push to strengthen domestic security post

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A number of U.S. senators want to take President Bush's proposal to create a Cabinet-level position of homeland security one step further, making it a full and permanent Cabinet post.

Bush announced to a joint session of Congress Thursday night that he is appointing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge to the Cabinet-level position, meaning he would have only advisory authority and would not have a budget, as do full members of the Cabinet.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman said Friday he will propose the higher status. The Connecticut Democrat called Bush's initiative "a beginning but not enough."

In a separate news conference, Democratic Sens. Bob Graham and Bill Nelson of Florida and Dianne Feinstein of California said they too will push for full Cabinet status for homeland security.

The president can create a Cabinet-level position by executive order, but Congress must act to create a new Cabinet department.

Graham said the position should have "budget authority" and said there should be someone with executive-level responsibility to ensure that resources are allocated appropriately.

In addition, he noted that the Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security had recommended that the president and Congress reform the system together.

Although there were no Republicans at the news conference, Graham said, "we assure you this is a very bipartisan agreement" and GOP cosponsors are already onboard.

Lieberman said that both the Hart-Rudman Commission and other studies on domestic responses to terrorism agreed that "there was a growing threat of homeland attacks ... the nation lacked a clear strategy to prevent and protect against these threats ... and responsibility for homeland security was spread among too many agencies without sufficient coordination."

He said as many as 51 agencies are involved in some way in anti-terrorism efforts, with more than $11 billion spent on terrorism each year. Calling that inefficient, he said the work needs to be coordinated.

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