- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 19, 2002

O'FALLON, Mo. The White House yesterday expressed surprise at the "vehemence" of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, who said Sunday he might subpoena Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to testify before Congress.
"It's surprising that some in the legislature are pushing this issue with such a vehemence," said White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. "Why is Congress pushing with such zeal?"
Mr. Fleischer was responding to Mr. Daschle's assertion that a subpoena "is an option" in forcing Mr. Ridge to testify before the Senate. The South Dakota Democrat wants to grill Mr. Ridge about the administration's plans to double spending on domestic security next year to $38 billion.
"Coercion is not ever my first choice," Mr. Daschle said on CBS' "Face the Nation." He said he hopes the subpoena does not become a "necessary" step.
"There's been some rise in the elevated amount of rhetoric from the legislature, given the fact that they have all the information they're seeking," Mr. Fleischer said in response to questions from The Washington Times aboard Air Force One.
"Congress should not ask for testimony that goes above and beyond the historical bipartisan traditions," he added. "This is an important line to draw and the president has drawn it."
Mr. Ridge has met privately on Capitol Hill to brief both parties on the war against terrorism. But Mr. Daschle wants him to testify in a public forum.
Traditionally, only the heads of Cabinets and federal agencies testify before Congress. Advisers to the president typically meet privately with lawmakers. These officials include the president's chief of staff, national security adviser and White House counsel.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bush flatly refused to allow Mr. Ridge to appear before Congress.
"He doesn't have to testify," the president said at a news conference. "He's a part of my staff, and that's part of the prerogative of the executive branch of government. And we hold that very dear."
Mr. Bush added: "I'm not going to let Congress erode the power of the executive branch. I have a duty to protect the executive branch from legislative encroachment."
Yesterday, Mr. Fleischer downplayed suggestions that Mr. Daschle's threat of a subpoena is political.
"No, no, not political," he said. "I don't think that's fair to say, because there have been some Republicans who have raised similar issues."
These include Rep. Ernest Istook of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the Treasury, Postal Service and general government, and Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Mr. Stevens and the committee's chairman, Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, sent a letter Friday asking Mr. Ridge to appear before their committee.
Spokesmen for both senators said yesterday they were still waiting for a response. No deadline was set for the White House to comply or respond to the letter.
"Senator Byrd still hopes that there can be a nonconfrontational resolution to get Mr. Ridge up here to testify," Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin said.
Mr. Fleischer made his remarks on his way to Missouri, where the president visited a manufacturing plant and pushed for more small-business tax breaks. Current law allows firms to write off as an immediate expense the first $25,000 in new investments of up to $200,000. Mr. Bush wants to raise that to the first $40,000 of up to $325,000 in new investments.
The president also renewed his push to permanently repeal the death tax. He cited German immigrant, Rolf Albers, owner of the manufacturing plant, as someone who wants to leave his business to his family without excessive taxation.
"If you're Rolf, and you build up your business, and build up your assets through years of hard work, you ought to be able to make the decision of who gets to own that business after you move on," Mr. Bush said, triggering applause.
Afterward, the president helped raise $1.5 million at a dinner for former Rep. Jim Talent of Missouri, a Republican who is seeking the Senate seat currently occupied by Democrat Jean Carnahan.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.


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