Congress warns Bush: No facts, no money
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Congress criticized the Bush administration's tight rein on information Thursday, with both Republicans and Democrats questioning the president's reluctance to share.
In a subcommittee hearing Thursday, Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, warned White House budget director Mitch Daniels: "No information, no money." Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, told Reuters the administration had a "severe attitude problem."
And Rep. Ernest Istook, the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on general government, warned the White House's attitude toward Congress could endanger its budget requests.
"I hope that the lack of necessary information does not compel us to withhold funds for the priorities established by the president," Istook, R-Oklahoma, said in a written statement reported by The Associated Press.
The latest tug-of-war between the administration and Congress was spurred by Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge's refusal to testify before congressional budget committees.
Sen. Robert Byrd, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Bush "is being poorly advised on this matter."
"There is no justification for the Congress not to be kept fully aware, on behalf of the American people, with respect to the programs, the plans, the priorities of the Office of Homeland Security," Byrd, D-West Virginia, told CNN.
In a news conference Wednesday, Bush defended Ridge and criticized congressional "encroachment" onto White House turf -- in particular, the General Accounting Office's demand that the White House turn over records of the energy task force Vice President Dick Cheney led last year.
"I have an obligation to make sure that the presidency remains robust, and that the legislative branch doesn't end up running the executive branch," Bush said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has said he would consider subpoenaing Ridge, who has refused to testify before the Senate's Appropriations and Finance committees.
"I'm still wondering what it is about Mr. Ridge's job that would keep the administration from wanting him to come to the Capitol to talk about the many responsibilities he has," Daschle, D-South Dakota, told reporters Thursday.
Ridge and Bush argue that it would be inappropriate for the homeland security chief to appear before Congress because he is an adviser to the president, not a Cabinet secretary or agency head. White House advisers, such as the chief of staff and national security adviser, generally do not testify before Congress.
The Bush administration is asking for $38 billion for homeland security, and congressional leaders say Ridge must answer questions about the budget request. Daschle said he also wants Ridge to discuss the controversy over the approval of student visas for two of the September 11 hijackers.
"One of the responsibilities of his job is to increase the confidence in this country about the importance that our country is placing on homeland security, that we understand its complexities and the difficult challenges we face," Daschle said. "But if he can't be an advocate before Congress, it's hard for me to understand how he can be an advocate before the country."
The question of Ridge's testimony is just one of a number of recent complaints that members of Congress, particularly Democrats, have with the administration.
The White House criticized several earmarked items in its budget, and Byrd and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill sparred over an illustration in the document that Byrd considered dismissive of congressional oversight.
The White House is also fighting a GAO lawsuit over the energy task force records, arguing that disclosing details of the task force's meetings with energy executives would make it harder for the president to get candid advice.
In addition, the administration failed to inform key lawmakers about the existence of a contingency government plan activated to ensure the survival of federal agencies in case of a massive terrorist attack on Washington.
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