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Department of Homeland Security seal - 

KAI RYSSDAL: Elsewhere in Washington today, the Senate voted narrowly to give 45,000 airport security screeners the right to unionize. The White House is threatening a veto of that bill. But before they deal with that, senators will have to untangle another controversy over how to divvy up federal homeland security money. Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


JOHN DIMSDALE: Last May, the Department of Homeland Security announced grants for local antiterrorism programs. And officials in New York City and Washington, D.C. were appalled when their own funding was slashed, while cities such as Louisville, Ky., and Omaha, Neb., got 40 percent increases.

Under the current formula, 60 percent of local grants go to states judged to be more at risk to a terror attack, with the rest distributed to all states equally. Illinois's Democratic Senator Barack Obama wants to send a bigger chunk to states more vulnerable to terrorism.

BARACK OBAMA: We increase the funding available to protect those places most at risk. And 40 states will receive either the same amount or an increase in the funding they need to better protect our borders, our ports, our railways, our subways, our chemical plants and our firefighters, police officers and EMTs.

But advocates for wider distribution of Homeland Security grants, such as Maine Republican Susan Collins, said terrorists can strike anywhere.

SUSAN COLLINS: Who would have guessed that Portland, Maine, would have been the departure point for two of the hijackers on 9/11? Who would have guessed that four of the hijackers would train and live in Norman, Oklahoma?

The Senate is considering four different formulas for distributing the money. But regional squabbling threatens to derail plans by Senate leaders to finish work on the bill by the end of the week.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.