The President's Drug Plan : Democrats Criticize Funding Plan : Object to Financing Fight on Drugs by Cutting Other Programs

Times Staff Writers

Although key Democrats Tuesday praised the goals of President Bush's new anti-narcotics program, they criticized it for lacking toughness and faulted his proposal to fund it by cutting other federal spending.

"What we need is another D-Day, not another Vietnam--not a limited war, fought on the cheap and destined for stalemate and human tragedy," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Democrats' choice to respond to the President's first prime-time televised message from the Oval Office.

Other reaction from Capitol Hill indicated that the President's plan would get close scrutiny from the Democratic-controlled House and Senate, with special attention to be given to Bush's intention to finance the plan out of existing revenues.

Some Want Tax Hikes

Some Democrats suggested raising taxes to pay for additional interdiction, law enforcement, education and treatment but Bush rejected higher taxes to wage the war against narcotics. "Quite frankly, the President's plan is not tough enough, bold enough or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand," Biden said in his reply. "We don't oppose the President's plan--all we want to do is strengthen it.

"In a nutshell," Biden concluded, "the President's plan does not include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, enough prosecutors to convict them, enough judges to sentence them or enough prison cells to put them away for a long time."

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics, told reporters after a White House briefing on the plan that he favors additional revenues to pay for the stepped-up drug war.

$2-Billion Tax Increase

"Americans are not afraid to pay a couple of dollars for this," Rangel said. "There's nothing wrong with coming up with a $2-billion tax bill and slapping it on top of the Bennett proposal, and I am prepared to do that."

Rangel referred to William J. Bennett, national drug policy director and chief planner of the Bush Administration's strategy.

A similar view was expressed by Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, where tax bills must originate.

"Unless we are willing to finance this war, we will fail," he said. To finance the anti-drug effort, he urged Bush to break his campaign promise of "no new taxes."

"Unless the President supports the tax increase that will be necessary to fight this war, the drug dealers are going to win," Rostenkowski added.

'Nickel and Diming'

Rangel said that Bush's request to Congress to pay for the first year of the new program by reducing outlays in other federal accounts by $716 million was "nickel and diming" and seemed insincere.

Rep. Mel Levine (D-Santa Monica) complained that the President's proposal failed to recognize that a national drug war must start in Los Angeles, where 40% of the nation's cocaine enters the country and which is headquarters for gangs that now dominate narcotics trade in 50 other cities.

"Starting a drug war without starting in California is starting a drug war in retreat," Levine said in an interview. "Any drug strategy that does not address the L.A. problem cannot be successful."

"It is a step in the right direction--but it is only a first step and must be followed by many more," said Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Whitmire criticized the Bush plan for financing the anti-drug effort by reducing funds for other federal programs that aid urban areas.

Republicans Enthusiastic

As expected, Republicans were far more enthusiastic about Bush's proposal, and some challenged the skeptical Democratic reaction to the financing of the package.

"What we don't need now is instant criticism and nit-picking," said Senate Republican leader Bob Dole of Kansas. "Congress helps spend about $1 trillion every year, so I feel confident we can find enough funding to fuel our way on drugs.

"I just don't believe we have to raise taxes to pay for it," Dole added. "This is a war on drugs, not a war on the American taxpayer."

However, House GOP leader Robert H. Michel of Illinois took a more conciliatory approach on the same issue, saying: "Obviously, this is not a war we're going to win overnight . . . . It will be a costly venture when it's all over."

Many Democrats, possibly aware of the great public concern over narcotics, rushed to go on record with compliments for Bush's decision to gear up for a reinvigorated drive against drug addiction despite their reservations about parts of the plan.

Kennedy Commends Bush

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), usually considered one of the most liberal members of the Senate, commended Bush for outlining a comprehensive strategy.

"The phony war of the past eight years is over," Kennedy said in a statement. "For the first time in this decade, we have an Administration pledge to do what it takes to rid the nation and its communities of the scourge of drug abuse.

"Obviously, there will be disagreements and divisions in the months ahead over the most effective priorities . . . and for allocating scarce resources," he said. "But I am optimistic that, with the President and Congress working together at last, the worst is over."

Rep. William J. Hughes (D-N. J.) also struck a positive note.

"The American people want us to get serious, and I think we'll do that," said Hughes, who said that his House Judiciary subcommittee on crime would put Bush's proposal on a fast track for approval this fall.

Must Come Up With Funds

Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) said that the plan is "a good beginning" but added that Bush must come up with the funds and lead the national effort. He predicted that Bush's proposal to finance the drug war by cutting other federal programs would not succeed. "The challenge now is with Bush--he's got to come up with the funding."

Sharper criticism came from California Rep. Don Edwards (D-San Jose), who termed the President's plan a disappointment.

"It proposes more of almost everything that hasn't worked--more arrests, more prisons, tougher sentences," Edwards said. "The greatest disappointment in the Bush plan is its failure to provide for treatment upon request . . . . It doesn't address the needs of those who want help kicking their habits."

Criticizing the President for failing to set priorities, Edwards said: "Congress will have to take this plan and reshape it to emphasize what has worked."

However, Rep. Lawrence Coughlin (R-Pa.) countered that "the thrust of this program is right on target," and Rep. Bob Smith (R-Ore.) said that the Bush plan is "tough as hell."

A Pattern of Decline Persons in the United States who admit to having used cocaine or marijuana in the past month. Source: National Institute of Drug Abuse

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