House members clash with OMB director at hearing

Appropriators of both parties aggressively defended their constitutional role as guardians of the nation's purse strings Thursday and demanded a more open and free flow of information from the executive branch, as they grilled Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels at a hearing of the House Treasury-Postal Appropriations subcommittee.

The blunt-spoken Daniels has tangled with appropriators over congressional earmarks since leaving the private sector to run the budget agency, but in recent months the already shaky relationship has taken a turn for the worse.

Among other flashpoints, Daniels was quoted last fall making derogatory comments about appropriators, while the fiscal 2003 budget Bush submitted in February echoed critical remarks that Daniels and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill made about "Lilliputian" restraints on federal agencies.

Coming to the Hill shortly after Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge refused to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee and Daniels' involvement in the ouster of Army Corps of Engineers head Mike Parker--a former House member and favorite of appropriators--Daniels endured several stern admonitions from committee members.

Leading the charge was Appropriations ranking member David Obey, D-Wis. Obey criticized Daniels and other administration officials, among them Ridge, O'Neill and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as well as "the Ole Miss cheerleader in residence in the Senate," a reference to Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who has criticized statements by Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., about the war on terrorism.

Obey said they have demonstrated "a condescending attitude toward the Congress as an institution" that is "in variance with the Constitution."

Obey further decried the reticence of OMB, Ridge and the White House in sharing information with Congress about homeland security and the so- called "shadow government" set up to assure continuity in the event of a catastrophic attack on the capital.

"Now this Congress has an obligation. No information, no money," Obey said. "If we can't get better cooperation from the OMB, then the agency should be defunded."

Nor did Treasury-Postal Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Ernest Istook, R-Okla., pull any punches about the information the committee is getting from the White House or Ridge's refusal to testify.

Noting that many of Ridge's duties are responsibilities he shares with Congress, Istook told Daniels: "I hope that the lack of necessary information does not compel us to withhold funds for the priorities established by the president… The information we are receiving on homeland security is inadequate, and you are in a position to help change that… We need more trust between OMB and the Appropriations Committee than we have right now."

Daniels told the panel, "If there is more we can do to share more information sooner with you, we're happy and determined to do it."

Daniels also admitted to Obey, "I have frequently in my life needed an attitude adjustment," and explained that his complaint about the "Lilliputian" bonds that constrain federal agencies "was meant to refer to the bonds, not the Congress" as being Lilliputian.