Washington--In one of his first interviews as President, George Bush last week said the drive to eliminate drug abuse would succeed “only if our education is successful.”
The Administration’s efforts, he said, will focus on urging “all elements in our society to participate in the fight on drugs.”
But even as Mr. Bush was speaking to reporters, criticism was building on Capitol Hill over his apparent decision not to make his new “drug czar,” former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett, a formal member of the Cabinet. Lawmakers argued that the decision sends the wrong message about the importance of the war on drugs.
In fact, the sentiments expressed by the President last week seemed to dovetail withlnews
those of his new anti-drug chief, who seemed to dovetail with those of Mr. Bennett, who was well known for his use of the Education Department post as a bully pulpit for proclamations on the same themes.
“The answer to the problem of drugs lies more on solving the demand side of the equation than it does on the supply side--than it does on interdiction or sealing the borders or something of that nature,” Mr. Bush said in a Jan. 25 interview with reporters from The New York Times and The Houston Post.
“And so it is going to have to be a major educational effort, and the private sector and the schools are all going to have to be involved in this,” he said.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Bennett discovered he was not to be a full-fledged Cabinet member again when he was not invited to Mr. Bush’s first Cabinet meeting.
The 1988 law creating the post of director of national drug policy specifies that it is to be a “Cabinet-level” position, meaning that the appointee will be paid the same as a Cabinet member and must be confirmed by the Senate. But the President can decide whether to make him a full member of the Cabinet who attends all its meetings.
A White House spokesman saidthat Mr. Bush simply wanted to limit the number of Cabinet members, and that Mr. Bennett would be invited to meetings “as necessary.”
“This is not a serious issue,” said John Walters, a Bennett aide who oversaw anti-drug efforts for him at the Education Department and is now working in the fledgling office of drug-control policy.
Mr. Walters said the decision would not change Mr. Bennett’s au8thority or responsibilities.
“There’s no doubt about President Bush’s serious dedication to solving the drug problem and there’s no doubt about President Bush’s complete commitment to William Bennett as the man in charge of this issue for the President,” he said.
‘A Big Mistake’
But a number of lawmakers disagreed last week.
“The President is making a big mistake,” Senator Alan J. Dixon, Democrat of Illinois, said in introducing legislation that would require Cabinet membership for the drug czar.
“By not making the drug czar a Cabinet position, the President is undercutting his inaugural commitment to turn the tide in the war on drugs,” Mr. Dixon said. “For William Bennett to be most effective, he needs to be included in all Cabinet meetings and all Cabinet decisions.”
At a Jan. 25 news conference, a lawmaker who has sharply criticized Mr. Bennett in the past also joined the ranks of his supporters.
Representative Charles B. Rangel, the New York Democrat who chairs the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, told reporters that the Congress intended the drug czar to be a fully participating Cabinet member and would not settle for less.
“I spoke with Mr. Bennett, who said he felt it was an oversight, and we are certainly hopeful that given the nature of the reactions from all over the Congress President Bush will simply include him next time,” Mr. Rangel said.
Mr. Rangel said he would like to avoid a clash over the issue, but added that Mr. Bush could be heading for “a serious confrontation with Congress” if he does not rethink his decision.
In the past, Mr. Rangel has criticized Mr. Bennett for encouraging school administrators to expel drug-abusing students and for proposing inadequate budgets for the Education Department’s anti-drug programs.
The purpose of the news conference was to announce introduction of a supplemental appropriations bill that would increase 1989 spending on anti-drug efforts from $1 billion to $2.7 billion. That increase would include a $12-million hike for Education Department programs, giving them the largest appropriation allowed by law.
The bill was introduced as S 26 by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, and was to be introduced in the House by Mr. Rangel on Friday.
A version of this article appeared in the February 01, 1989 edition of Education Week as Education Is Key In War on Drugs, President Says