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Nonpartisan study to focus on passport proposal Plan would expand need for document

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office this month will begin a study into economic and other impacts of the Bush administration's proposed passport requirement.

The study, which was requested by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, is among a number of congressional reactions to the Sept. 1 announcement by the Bush administration that it is moving forward with plans to require travelers, including young children, crossing the Canadian and Mexican borders, to produce passports as of Dec. 31, 2007.

The GAO, an investigative arm of Congress, will weigh how much it will cost to enforce a passport edict, the potential delays on cargo and tourists, and the effect of it on the economy.

Meanwhile, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles E. Schumer, both D-N.Y., and Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo, mounted separate efforts to head off plans by the Bush administration to impose its passport requirement on North American travelers by the end of 2007.

Clinton wrote leaders of both houses, asking them to prohibit spending on the passport initiative by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.

"It is imperative that Congress require the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of State to listen closely to the voices of border state residents and consider all feasible alternatives that will both enhance security and facilitate commerce," Clinton wrote.

Her letter is addressed to Senate and House members of the conference committee that is meeting on 2005 spending legislation for the Department of Homeland Security.

The Senate passed an amendment creating the ban last July. The House version of the Homeland Security appropriations bill contains no such provision.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, said Thursday he will urge House members of the appropriations conference to include the ban in the final bill.

Higgins and Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, are circulating a letter among their colleagues, warning a "passport tax" could cost a family "in South Texas with two children $358 in fees for passports to travel to Mexico to see relatives."

"If a similar family in New York needed to attend a funeral in Ontario on short notice, the fees would increase to $598. Many working families cannot afford this 'passport tax,' " the letter said.

Higgins and Ortiz said they want as many members as possible to sign the letter for presentation to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. They noted the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 gives President Bush discretion to waive the passport requirement for U.S. citizens.

Schumer set up a link on his Senate Web site: schumer.senate.gov, where citizens can register their reactions to the proposed passport rule.

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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