More Money Urged to Foster Abstinence

Times Staff Writer

The budget proposed by President Bush moves the federal government more heavily into social policy with plans to increase spending to promote sexual abstinence among teenagers and to support the institution of marriage.

The course carries potential political benefit for the president and little risk. But Bush is walking a tightrope nonetheless. Supporting his electoral coalition are different wings of the Republican Party: social conservatives and fiscal hawks.

Pollsters have found that Americans, by a large margin, think the government should play no role in such a personal -- and for many, religious -- issue as marriage. A survey conducted two years ago by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 79% think the government should keep out of programs encouraging people to marry and stay married, while 18% said the government should establish such programs.


In seeking greater spending for such policies, Bush is able to court the social conservatives who deserted his father when the senior Bush sought reelection 12 years ago, creating a split within the Republican Party that many blamed for his loss in 1992.

And by keeping the spending increases low, at least in federal budget terms, he can avoid giving new targets to fiscal conservatives, who are upset by the size of the budget deficit.

The programs for which Bush is seeking new money include one that encourages teens to abstain from sex (a 100% increase, to $270 million) and an initiative to promote marriage and limit out-of-wedlock births ($240 million, distributed in grants to states).

Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services for children and families, said Monday that the additional money for abstinence education and marriage promotion had been taken from welfare-related programs designed to reduce out-of-wedlock births. There was “very little evidence” the programs were “changing behavior,” Horn said.

In addition, the Justice Department is seeking to beef up a unit fighting child pornography and obscenity. The budget would increase by $13.8 million for the anti-smut efforts. It would add 51 jobs, including 10 FBI agents who would focus on adult obscenity cases.

The department has been criticized by conservative advocacy groups in the last three years for failing to crack down on what they perceive as the explosion of pornography over the Internet, and for focusing only on the purveyors of the most violent or most perverse forms of pornography.

The administration’s conservative supporters have pushed hard for additional funding to promote abstinence and two-parent families.

“There’s a lot of information about contraception in our society; there isn’t much about abstinence,” said Robert E. Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, who developed the administration’s principles for abstinence-only education.

One senior aide to the Senate’s Republican leadership said fiscal conservatives are in a “mutinous and sullen” mood as a result of the projected $521-billion budget deficit in the current fiscal year. To them, the aide said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the money earmarked for the abstinence and marriage efforts are “nickel and dime” amounts that would not adversely affect the deficit.

And, he said, the spending would balance previous welfare and housing policies that conservatives and others have cited as examples of federal policy that, by helping single parents on welfare, served to discourage marriage.

Still, the Senate aide said, the prospects for congressional approval remained uncertain, given the deficit-cutting demands of Republicans and Democrats.

By pushing the government into promotion of social values, Bush is setting himself apart from his father, said John C. Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

“President Bush has a religious constituency that is very interested in these kinds of things,” he said.

Same-sex marriage and abortion are at the top of their agenda, he said. And evangelical Protestants, at the center of this group, make up between one-third and two-fifths of the Republican vote.

But by addressing teen sex and the state of marriage, Green said, the president could demonstrate concern for issues that energize these potential voters without highlighting the more controversial matters on the social agenda that might lose the support of more moderate Republicans and independents.


Times staff writers Richard B. Schmitt and Vicki Kemper contributed to this report.