Former Education Secretary William J. Bennett won Senate confirmation Thursday as head of the war on drugs, with lawmakers urging him to waste no time in fashioning a strategy for fighting the invasion of illegal narcotics.
“Mr. Bennett is in for the fight of his life, but more important, he is in for the fight of our children’s lives,” Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N. Y.) said before the Senate voted, 97 to 2, for confirmation.
The opposition votes were cast by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N. M.) and Paul Simon (D-Ill.). Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) did not vote.
The full Senate acted hours after the Judiciary Committee voted, 13 to 1, to send Bennett’s nomination to the floor with a favorable recommendation.
After the tumultuous floor fight over and rejection of President Bush’s nomination of former Sen. John Tower as defense secretary, approval of Bennett came easily, despite controversy that swirled around his brash style and outspoken views as education secretary.
Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) told the Senate that congressional oversight of the so-called drug czar must be streamlined or Bennett will be forced to squander his time on “seven-camera hearings” on Capitol Hill instead of battling the tide of narcotics.
Simon, a longtime ally of teacher groups, expressed concern on the Senate floor that Bennett would produce “a blizzard of press releases but not much action.”
He had told the Judiciary Committee earlier that Bennett had sought a cut in the Education Department’s drug education budget and, as an administrator, “was not strong.”
As head of the new Office of National Drug Control Policy, Bennett will be required to study the spending plans of Cabinet officers and prod them to increase what they have designated for the war on drugs if he deems that necessary. Disputes ultimately would be settled by the President.
Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) told lawmakers that the real issue was “whether President Bush has a strategy, whether he is going to enunciate that strategy and whether he is going to put that strategy into effect.” Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, the top Republican on the committee, replied there was no question that Bush was focusing hard on the drug problem.