- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Sen. Robert C. Byrd called the Bush administration arrogant yesterday for not sending Office of Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge to testify as the Appropriations Committee began hearings on the president's newest spending request.
"I've made no threats; I've made no partisan statements. I simply cannot understand this arrogance on the part of an administration that will not assist the Congress in dealing with the budget of the president of the United States," Mr. Byrd said. "We need Mr. Ridge, but he is not here."
Since President Bush's request in March for $27.1 billion in new spending, much of it for domestic security, Mr. Byrd, the committee chairman, and Sen. Ted Stevens from Alaska, the top Republican on the committee, have been pleading with the administration to let Mr. Ridge testify.
They want Mr. Ridge to detail how last year's emergency homeland security appropriations have been spent and how the requested funds would be spent.
The president, however, has said Mr. Ridge is a presidential adviser, different from a Senate-confirmed appointee, and as such is exempt from testifying.
So far Mr. Byrd, Mr. Stevens and other members of the committee have stopped short of calling for a subpoena of Mr. Ridge, but they and Senate Democratic leaders say it remains an option.
"Whether it's making the whole effort a statutory reality and creating a new Cabinet-level position or doing something like a subpoena, those options still remain available to us," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
But when given the chance by Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, Mr. O'Neill said Mr. Ridge's refusal to testify hasn't hampered security efforts.
Instead of Mr. Ridge, the committee heard about homeland security from Treasury Secretary Paul H. O'Neill, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman.
Mr. Byrd and Mr. O'Neill did not repeat their sparring match of two months ago, when they argued over who came from poorer beginnings. But Mr. Byrd took exception to one of Mr. O'Neill's highlighted projects, a voluntary partnership between the Customs Service and corporations that ship across the Canadian border to Detroit.
Mr. O'Neill said the partnership that has reduced truck waiting times from 54 minutes to 17 seconds helps both safety and the economy, but Mr. Byrd said the arrangement doesn't sound secure.
"If this is the way we are going to look at the security needs of the American people, I'm afraid they're not going to sleep well at night. I'm not, for one," Mr. Byrd said.
Mr. Byrd and other senators peppered the three secretaries with questions about whether enough is being spent on domestic security and wondered why some agency budgets weren't increased. But the secretaries said they are swamped already with hiring.
If the Senate committee does add more spending to the bill it would put senators in conflict with House Republican leaders, who are committed to keeping the bill's total at or below $27.1 billion, said House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican.
Some House appropriators are pushing to go higher, but Mr. Bush has said he doesn't want that, and Mr. Armey said Republican leaders agree.
"Given what I know of discussions between leadership and the budget committee at this point, I don't expect it to come out above that," Mr. Armey said, adding that there is room for representatives to shift money around within the bill to accommodate their priorities, but that the top should remain capped.
Tomorrow the committee is scheduled to hear from Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Joe M. Allbaugh.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide