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AUSTIN EDITION Legislators critical of White House meth policy

By Edward Felker

news@postbulletin.com

WASHINGTON –; House lawmakers on Tuesday criticized the Bush administration for what they say is a failure to devise a national strategy to combat rural methamphetamine production and abuse.

Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., brought federal drug prevention officials before his Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources to let them know the Bush administration was in conflict with rural lawmakers determined to direct more resources to anti-meth programs.

"This committee is desperately trying to say, 'Lead,'" Souder said.

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He was joined by colleagues from both parties in urging a more organized federal approach to the meth problem. They said rural lawmakers will continue to fight budget proposals by President Bush that would scale back or terminate local drug enforcement grants.

Rep. Gil Gutknecht, R-Minn., called meth production "a huge and growing problem."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member on the subcommittee, said methamphetamine crime outranks al-Qaida as a threat to the United States, and that the time to address it is now.

"We have terrorists in our own houses," he said.

Scott Burns, deputy director for state and local affairs for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, initially defended the federal approach to meth control. "We believe the strategy, with your help, has yielded success."

Souder said he did not want the administration undercutting efforts to preserve a $20 million anti-meth appropriation approved by the House in June. The funding must still win inclusion in the final version of the appropriations bill that funds the Justice Department, among other agencies.

Souder has led efforts by the Congressional Meth Caucus, a bipartisan coalition of 111 lawmakers, to increase federal funding and attention to local anti-meth efforts. Tuesday's hearing was the ninth he has held in Washington and elsewhere to highlight the growing meth problem.

It included testimony from the National Association of Counties, which found in a June survey of 500 counties in 45 states that meth was the leading local drug-related law enforcement problem in the country, and that meth usage was driving up instances of child abuse and neglect.

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Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., called for an immediate "summit" of federal, state and local officials to devise national anti-meth strategies.

"This is hell on wheels as far as doing damage to the very fiber of this country," he said.

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