WASHINGTON – The head of the Senate Appropriations Committee that approves the homeland security budget has said he will give some thought to a compromise offered by Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, who is under fire for refusing to testify on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., chairman of the committee, received an offer from Ridge to appear informally before Congress next month to answer questions from lawmakers before the public and the media.
In a handwritten letter to Byrd, Ridge said he thought the offer would meet the demands of Byrd and other senators that he testify while maintaining Ridge's independence from oversight by Congress.
"I believe it will meet your needs and avoid the setting of a precedent that could undermine the constitutional separation of powers and the long-standing traditions and practices of both Congress and the executive branch," Ridge wrote.
The White House and Ridge have argued that as an adviser to the president, rather than a Cabinet secretary or agency head, Ridge does not have to appear before Congress.
In his letter Monday, Ridge underscored that he has made himself available to lawmakers on an individual basis, meeting more than 35 times on Capitol Hill since Oct. 8. His staff has also collectively met with lawmakers in more than 100 meetings during the same period.
Still, Ridge's refusal to testify angered Democrats and Republicans, who want him to justify the $38 billion domestic security budget included in the defense spending bill.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle went so far as to say a subpoena was an option if Ridge would not relent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.