A senior Republican lawmaker, firing back at President Bush for recent statements blaming Congress for underfunding emergency workers, accused the White House of factual inaccuracy and inadequate communication.
In an extraordinary departure from the public unity that has characterized White House relations with congressional Republicans, House Appropriations Committee Chairman C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) wrote to urge White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. to "be responsible" and "move on from this pointless and harmful debate" over legislation passed last month that included money for "first responders" involved in homeland security.
A copy of the letter, dated March 6, was provided to The Washington Post.
Though lawmakers, even those in Bush's party, often chafe at the administration's hard-nosed tactics, the letter underscored the unusually raw feelings that have developed among House Republicans since Bush began blaming them for inadequate homeland security funds. Democrats have long criticized Bush for inaccurate statements on spending and other matters, but this is the most prominent case of a Republican accusing Bush of falsehoods.
"I believe White House statements that Congress only provided $1.3 billion for first responders are factually inaccurate because you have narrowly chosen programs that only you believe will support the first-responder community," Young wrote in the three-page letter accusing the White House of various contradictions and inconsistencies.
"You can choose to continue the debate on this issue in this fashion, or we can be responsible and address the real issues facing first responders," Young wrote following a six-point critique. "It would be helpful to have a periodic exchange of information on this issue and other issues of importance to our country, instead of one-way directives from the Office of Management and Budget."
Bush, accused by Democrats of shortchanging homeland security, last month said the GOP-controlled Congress "did not respond to the $3.5 billion we asked for -- they not only reduced the budget that we asked for, they earmarked a lot of the money" for unrelated programs. Bush said he was "disappointed," and White House officials said Congress provided only $1.3 billion to local governments to combat terrorism, rather than $3.5 billion.
In his letter to Card, Young wrote that the spending bill passed by Congress for fiscal 2003 "includes $3.465 billion in funding to support the first-responder community." That figure includes "$900 million in law enforcement grants the administration sought to eliminate."
Young also complained that White House explanation of the first-responder initiative was just one paragraph. "The committee repeatedly sought additional information," he wrote. Attaching the one-paragraph justification, Young wrote: "You do not have to be an expert to know that this is inadequate."
Young noted that he and his staff had "direct conversations" with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge about the funding levels "in advance of the final bill," and they agreed to work to "communicate a unified message."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Card had received Young's letter and has been in ongoing discussions with the chairman through yesterday. "The White House is working closely with Chairman Young and other congressional leaders on our shared commitment to make sure front-line responders in states and localities have the resources they need," McClellan said.
The issue highlights the difficulty Republicans face in controlling the White House and both chambers of Congress. Young and other Republicans on the spending committee, while reluctant to take on the president, are smarting from his criticism.
Congressional aides said Young is particularly irritated because he fought for more homeland security money in an emergency spending bill in late 2001 but was turned down by the White House.
Also, they said, he was angered by Bush's move last year to impound $5.1 billion that had been included in the emergency measure, about $2.6 billion of which was for homeland security and $500 million for first responders. In addition, aides said, Young pleaded with Bush in December to allow the committee to spend more, but Bush refused. To keep the spending within Bush's requirements, GOP lawmakers fought amendments to increase spending on security -- and then felt that Bush betrayed their loyalty.
A Young aide said the letter "was not a game of gotcha. He was trying to be helpful."
Staff writers Juliet Eilperin and Dan Morgan contributed to this report.