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Ridge makes offer to Congress, Senate aide says

Tom Ridge: "I'm going to work real hard to see if I can find something that's acceptable."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge has offered to make an informal public appearance before members of Congress within the next month to talk about President Bush's counterterrorism budget, a spokesman for Sen. Robert Byrd said Monday.

But Byrd spokesman Tom Gavin suggested the offer would not be enough to satisfy lawmakers who have wanted Ridge to testify before congressional committees about the administration's plans to spend $38 billion on homeland security programs.

The notice from Ridge was delivered by hand Monday to Byrd's office in the Capitol, said Gavin. The West Virginia Democrat is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Ridge has been in a dispute with members of both parties in Congress for more than a month over Byrd's request that the homeland security director testify about the money the president wants in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Bush has said that Ridge is simply an adviser to the president and is not obliged to testify before Congress because he was not confirmed by Congress. Ridge has refused to testify on those same grounds.

"I don't think you can compromise the principle of separation of powers. I do think that we should continue our discussions to determine whether or not there's a forum that both Congress and the White House can agree is appropriate," Ridge said Sunday on ABC's This Week. "I'm going to work real hard to see if I can find something that's acceptable."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, supported Byrd and said senators might consider issuing a subpoena to get Ridge to testify.

Daschle and other members of Congress have criticized the White House's position, saying Ridge's sweeping homeland security portfolio makes him more like a Cabinet-level administrator rather than merely an adviser to Bush.

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the committee's ranking Republican, also has urged Ridge to testify, as have other Republicans.

Last Wednesday, Ridge showed up unannounced in Byrd's office and they talked for about 15 minutes but reached no resolution.

On March 15, Byrd and Stevens wrote a letter to Bush asking to discuss the issue with the president, but have received no response, Gavin said Monday.

"Senator Byrd remains hopeful the president will respond favorably and directly to our letter," he said.

On Sunday, Ridge said that while he coordinates homeland security efforts among various federal agencies, the $38 billion budget proposal would go to the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, among others. The heads of those agencies can be called to testify.

"I do not have control of those dollars. I will not oversee the expenditure of those dollars," he said.

The fight over Ridge's testimony is the latest round in a long-running debate over how to organize the homeland security office, which was created by Bush in the aftermath of September 11. Ridge, then governor of Pennsylvania, was appointed by Bush to head the new office.

Bush has resisted calls to make the homeland security office a separate Cabinet-level department, with its own budget and a director confirmed by the Senate. Instead, he made the office part of the White House staff by executive order.




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