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X-ing Out the NDIC

The battle over one of Congress’ most controversial earmarks resumed this week, as President Bush for the third time offered a budget that would shut down the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown, Pa.

[IMGCAP(1)]The mission of the center — a pet project of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) — is to “coordinate and consolidate drug intelligence from all national security and law enforcement agencies.”

But critics say it is duplicative of other federal efforts and is not worth its $40 million annual budget.

The president’s budget request for fiscal 2009 seeks $19.5 million “for the termination of the NDIC,” said a Justice Department spokesman, because “the administration has determined that NDIC resources should be realigned to support higher-priority counterterrorism and national security initiatives.”

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) offered an amendment last year to strip the NDIC money from the appropriations bill, but the amendment was defeated on the House floor.

During debate on that amendment, Flake pointed out that the administration had proposed closing the center. Murtha replied, “Let me tell you, the Bush administration made a few mistakes in the past.”

Murtha spokesman Matt Mazonkey said Tuesday: “Congressman Murtha is proud of the important work that NDIC is doing within the counter-drug and intelligence communities, and he will continue to fight any politically motivated attempts to close the center.”

Cardinal Concern. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) is expected to be released from New York Presbyterian Hospital today after falling ill at a weekend rally for Democratic presidential contender Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).

According to Lowey spokesman Matt Dennis, the New York lawmaker suffered a “minor coronary incident” on Feb. 2 and had remained in the hospital under observation.

“She’s doing really well,” Dennis said Tuesday.

Nonetheless, Lowey is not expected to return to work until mid-February when the House will break for its Presidents Day recess. Lowey, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs, will meet with constituents and operate out of her district office in White Plains, Dennis said.

Lowey was hospitalized Saturday after she became ill during an event for Clinton’s campaign. The lawmaker had been standing on stage for 90 minutes, her aide said, when she became faint and requested a chair. Paramedics were called and transported Lowey, who was conscious, to the White Plains Hospital Center. She was subsequently transferred to New York Presbyterian Hospital.

— Paul Singer and Jennifer Yachnin

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