Mike Lawrence: War’s impacts reach far | SteamboatToday.com

Mike Lawrence: War’s impacts reach far

While watching President Bush’s brief address Monday following the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech, I had to wonder about the substance behind the president’s promises.

At a minimum, I wondered about his administration’s ability to live up to those promises given the vast drain on federal funding and resources that is the war in Iraq.

“I told (Va. Gov. Tim Kaine and Virginia Tech President Charles Steger) that my administration would do everything possible to assist with the investigation, and that I pledged that we would stand ready to help local law enforcement and the local community in any way we can during this time of sorrow,” Bush said of the tragedy.

But what does “any way we can” mean?

More funding for emergency management?

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent 12 agents to Virginia Tech, and the FBI is contributing at least 15 agents to the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Western District of Virginia, the Department of Justice and the Education Department also are lending aid and counseling services.

Also on Tuesday, Bush spoke for six minutes to students gathered in a Virginia Tech gymnasium. He spoke primarily about faith in God, and the comfort of prayer in tragic times.

All of those are good steps for the president to take. They are appropriate short-term solutions.

But in the long run, will federal money be available to help counties fund pro-active measures such as increased emergency responder training and equipment?

The war in Iraq entered its fifth year March 19. (Where were you when Saddam’s statue fell?) Partly because of that war, we are facing a long-term shortage of federal funding for emergency situations right here in Routt County.

Chuck Vale, director of the county’s emergency management department, presented his 2007 annual Fire Operating Plan to the Routt County Board of Commissioners on Monday. The plan is an agreement between county, state and federal agencies. Vale said it’s too early to forecast wildfire danger in Northwest Colorado this summer, but noted the operating plan has changes this year.

Vale used four words to summarize those changes.

“Federal cutbacks in dollars,” he said.

In the past two years, regional wildfire prevention agencies have lost two fire engines and a water tender, which transports large quantities of water to the scene of a fire.

“Our ability to get that resource in 24 to 72 hours is lessened,” Vale said. “We’re almost going backward. We have to pay for a war and we have to pay for (Hurricane) Katrina, and something gets cut.”

Monday, Colorado’s entire Congressional delegation sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service Chief Gail Kimbell, asking the Forest Service to restore $4.3 million in funds cut from Colorado’s Region Two by a resolution Bush signed into law earlier this year.

“The Forest Service needs to recognize that when they shortchange forests in Colorado, they put the entire Western United States at risk,” said Sen. Wayne Allard.

Maybe helping “any way we can” means tighter gun control laws.

“The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed,” White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Monday afternoon.

Perino pointed out that Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings hosted a conference on school gun violence in October 2006. Tuesday, Perino said, “We are going to be participants in that (national) conversation” about gun control policy.

Meanwhile, Congress geared up for what the Washington Post described as “a final showdown” on a war-spending bill later this week.

“We should not legislate defeat in this vital war,” Bush said Monday.

If only he was referring to the wars we have right here at home.

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