President Bush's call for $1.2 billion to beef up federal law enforcement to fight crime is likely to get quickly mired in the perennial budget battle on Capitol Hill.
Bush unveiled his plan to "take back the streets" from violent criminals just five days after his budget director told Congress the administration opposed spending more money on the drug war this year.Democrats were quick last week to point out what they called a contradiction in Bush's position.
Besides new death penalty provisions and stiffer sentences for firearms use, Bush's plan calls for adding 24,000 cells to the federal prison system, hiring 825 agents and staff for U.S. law enforcement agencies and hiring 1,600 new Justice Department prosecutors.
Administration officials said the $1.2 billion to pay for the program next year could come from a discretionary fund set aside in the bipartisan budget agreement negotiated with Congress.
But Democrats in Congress who want to first spend money to finance programs enacted in last year's drug bill are ready to battle Bush on the issue.
Democrats are anxious to demonstrate to the voters that they, not Bush, are willing to spend what they say it takes to fight the drug war. At the same time there is pressure to keep spending within agreed-upon limits to reduce the federal deficit.
The drug law authorized $2.6 million in enforcement and drug-treatment programs but only $500 million was actually appropriated.
An $822 million spending package proposed by House Democrats to finance many of the enforcement programs in drug law was already a point of controversy between Congress and the White House when Bush made his proposal last Monday.
"The president hasn't said how we are to pay for his new anti-crime package," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted in a statement after Bush spelled out his plan in speech to a law enforcement group on the steps of the Capitol.
"At the same time, he is asking for more than $1 billion in new programs, his budget director is telling Congress his adminstration opposes the new funds to pay for the 1988 drug bill.
"We need to make tough, tough choices how to pay for these programs," Biden said.
The object of Biden's ire was a May 10 letter that Budget Director Richard G. Darman wrote to Rep. Jamie Whitten, D-Miss., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee opposing the $822 million Democrats want to earmark for anti-drug efforts this year.
"Important though the drug problem is," Darman wrote, "it is also important that we attend to the urgent need for a restoration of fiscal discipline."
Darman called drug issue an "undesirable complication" in efforts to agree to an urgent supplemental appropriation that is pending in the House. The emergency appropriation for the drug war is scheduled to be debated Wednesday by the House.
In his letter, the budget director urged Congress not to appropriate any more money this year until drug czar William Bennett makes his recommendations for a national drug strategy.
Bennett, whose office was created in last year's drug legislation, is expected to issue is report in September.
But congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the Democratic leadership is ready to press the issue before Bennett completes his report.
Half of the $822 million is intended speed up procurement of equipment by law enforcement agencies, such as surveillance planes used to spot drug smugglers.
Biden said he may propose an excise tax on cigarettes, liquor, wine and beer to raise money for the drug fight. The excise-tax proposal that proposal that Biden and Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., proposed last year to raise $900 million for the drug war was defeated in the Senate.
Debate over Biden's excise tax could come when the Senate considers the $822 million in the urgent supplemental appropriation.
Most back police efforts, poll says
Most Americans said they think police in their community are working as hard as possible to fight drugs, and six in 10 people said they would pay more taxes for a larger crime-fighting force, a Gallup poll released Saturday said. In the copyright poll for Newsweek magazine, 55 percent of those surveyed said think their local police are doing their best to combat drugs, while 36 percent disagreed. Sixty-one percent surveyed said they would be willing to pay extra taxes for a larger local police force, while 35 percent said they wouldn't. Asked how more money should be spent to fight crime, 44 percent chose additional drug treatment programs and social services, 28 percent favored hiring more police, 17 percent were for building more prisons and 4 percent said more judges are needed.