Bush proposes increase in spending on drug war

February 01, 1991|By Paul Anderson | Paul Anderson,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- President Bush claimed a partial victory yesterday in his domestic war -- the war on drugs -- and then proposed spending nearly $11.7 billion for the battle in 1991-1992, an 11 percent increase over this fiscal year.

The president said he wanted to continue the downward trend found in recent drug surveys -- especially a decline in casual use by high school students -- by beefing up law enforcement and by allowing an additional 200,000 drug users to get treatment.

Mr. Bush, appearing at a White House ceremony, insisted that he was not "totally preoccupied" with the war in the Persian Gulf and that his administration "remains committed to defeating the menace of drugs and . . . that commitment is unswerving."

But some Democrats in Congress and other critics noted that the budget Mr. Bush is recommending for a full year's war on drugs would not sustain the U.S. effort in the Persian Gulf for a month, according to preliminary estimates of the costs involved in fighting Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"I'd like to have an extra weekend's worth of the resources we've got up against Saddam Hussein," said Representative Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics.

"The administration's new strategy takes some additional steps in the right direction -- but falls far short of what must be done to combat the drug epidemic," said Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Bush's recommendation continues the current policy of spending twice as much on law enforcement, including border control and aid to drug-producing countries, as on education and treatment. Many Democrats say the split should be 50-50.

Mr. Biden, Mr. Rangel and others also questioned specifics in the strategy, such as whether the $100 million Mr. Bush proposes to add in drug-treatment grants to states would really make treatment available to an additional 200,000 drug abusers.

An estimated 2 million Americans are to receive treatment this year, for which the federal government pays just 21 percent of the cost, or $366 million. State and local governments put up 31 percent, and health insurance companies and other private providers put up 48 percent.

John P. Walters, acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, acknowledged that treatment for 200,000 more was based on "a projection" that the other sources also would increase their support.

Internationally, the president recommended a $122 million increase in military and economic aid to the three Andean nations -- Bolivia, Colombia and Peru -- that produce the majority of the coca that reaches the United States in the form of cocaine.

That comes despite Peru's rejection last year of $34.9 million in military and other aid, and Colombia's recent decision to stop extraditing leaders of the cocaine cartels to face charges in the United States.

Mr. Walters said that negotiations with both countries were continuing.

At the same time, the plan would cut $32 million in aid to local police agencies in five parts of the United States designated last year as "high-intensity drug trafficking areas." They are Miami, New York, Houston, Los Angeles and the U.S.-Mexican border.

The new budget calls for $50 million to be distributed among federal agencies working in the five areas, the same Mr. Bush recommended in 1990. But Congress added $32 million to that for local support; Mr. Bush is rejecting it for 1991-1992.

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