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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2002

Let Ridge testify

If President Bush is concerned as much about the war on terrorism as he is about consolidating White House power, he will allow Tom Ridge, Homeland Security director, to tell Congress publicly how he intends to spend the $38 billion requested for “domestic security” for the next fiscal year.

By refusing to let Mr. Ridge testify before any committee, the President has once again poked a finger in the eye of Congress.

The contretemps is so intense that there is talk in the Senate of issuing a subpoena for Mr. Ridge to appear. And it's not merely a partisan rant from Democrats.

“This is a major issue,” warned Rep. Ernest Istook, of Oklahoma, a conservative Republican who heads a House subcommittee overseeing the White House budget. “It involves billions of taxpayer dollars. More importantly, it involves millions of lives ... I hope the lack of necessary information does not compel us to withhold funds for the priorities established by the President.”

Congress and, by extension, the American people, are entitled to know how the administration plans to spend the $38 billion, roughly double this year's appropriation. And Mr. Ridge is the logical official to explain.

Moreover, Mr. Bush's position - that he is protecting executive branch prerogatives - is illogical and contradictory, especially considering that he seldom misses an opportunity to lecture the nation on the urgency of anti-terror measures.

In creating the homeland security post on Sept. 20, Mr. Bush stressed that Mr. Ridge would be a cabinet-rank official who would coordinate, “at the highest level,” the fight against terrorism inside the country.

Now, administration officials are claiming the former Pennsylvania governor is merely a presidential adviser who, because he wasn't subject to Senate confirmation, should not testify before Congress. The hole in that argument is that dozens of sub-cabinet officials routinely appear before House and Senate committees on all sorts of matters.

The administration's stance repeats a disturbing pattern that approaches a bunker mentality. Examples: The refusal to reveal who met with Vice President Cheney in the formation of a national energy policy last spring; an unusual executive order to keep secret documents from recent presidential administrations, and, most recently, the deployment of a “shadow government” with little notice to Congress.

Mr. Bush, buoyed by stratospheric poll ratings since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, evidently has forgotten that, in budget matters, it is the President who proposes and Congress that disposes.



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