President Bush, who last week singled out drug abuse as a national "scourge" that must be stopped, has decided that his new "drug czar," William J. Bennett, will not be a member of the Cabinet. The decision, which Bennett learned about after he was not invited to Bush's first Cabinet meeting Monday, drew criticism from members of Congress who said it would undercut Bennett's efforts to oversee federal antidrug policies. "This kind of symbolism is important," said Rep. Glenn English (D-Okla.), one of the authors of the congressional antidrug bill that created the new drug czar post. "It will weaken the drug czar in his relationship with other members of the Cabinet . . . . It does trouble me." The office for which Bennett has been nominated -- officially called the Director of National Drug Control Policy -- was designed to raise the profile of the drug issue by making its occupant a Cabinet-level official. That means Bennett, after confirmation, will be paid the same as Cabinet members -- $99,500 a year, due to increase to $155,000 under a new federal pay proposal. But White House officials noted that the law does not mandate the new position be "Cabinet rank," leaving the president discretion to decide whether he wants the drug czar to be a Cabinet member. "The president's preference was to limit the number of Cabinet members," said White House deputy press secretary Alixe Glen, when asked about Bennett's status. "But Secretary Bennett will attend Cabinet meetings as appropriate." Bush already has decided that two other Cabinet-level officials, U.N. Ambassador-designate Thomas R. Pickering and Central Intelligence Agency Director William H. Webster will not be Cabinet members, reflecting his desire to make those posts less visible. But two other Cabinet-level officials, budget director-designate Richard G. Darman and his nominee for U.S. trade representative, Carla Hills, will be Cabinet members. White House aides emphasized the decision in no way diminishes the administration's commitment to combating the drug problem, which Bush called "as serious any that we face today" when he selected Bennett Jan. 12. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said the move will lower the profile of the drug war under the Bush administration because President Reagan's National Drug Policy Board -- abolished under the drug bill -- was cochaired by the attorney general and the secretary of health and human services. "The priority of drugs in the executive branch will actually decrease," Biden said. Bennett, who said on Jan. 12 that he looks forward to working with "my colleagues in the Cabinet," could not be reached yesterday. Aide John Walters said Bennett had not been told of the decision, but "it's not been a big issue." After Bennett was not invited to themeeting, "I asked a secretary to check on what happened," Walters said.