WASHINGTON -- President Bush proposed yesterday a plan he described as "an agenda to expand opportunity and choice" among disadvantaged individuals and communities.
The plan would seek, among other things, to give individuals options in choosing schools for their children, open opportunities for low-income residents to own their homes and establish "enterprise zones" in economically distressed neighborhoods to attract seed capital for starting small businesses.
"I believe it represents one of the most far-reaching efforts in decades to unleash the talents of every citizen in America," Mr. Bush said.
As one point of the plan, Mr. Bush said that he was "determined to continue vigorous enforcement" of the nation's civil rights laws and that he soon would propose legislation to provide "strong new remedies" for protecting women from sexual harassment at work and minorities from racial prejudice in employment.
However, Ralph Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of 180 organizations, described the plan as "a rehash of the same old stuff that Congress has been rejecting for the past decade." The coalition is lobbying for congressional approval of a civil rights law similar to one Mr. Bush vetoed last year.
Mr. Bush broke away from his preoccupation with the Persian Gulf war to present the plan before a meeting of association executives at a Washington hotel.
Some Republican conservatives outside Mr. Bush's administration -- but nevertheless involved in the plan's preparation -- had urged the president to introduce the plan as a major element in a White House counteroffensive on civil rights.
But Mr. Bush did not go that far.
As a result, his plan, and his presentation of it, drew a mixed reaction from some Republican conservatives who had figured in its preparation and were on hand yesterday to hear the results.
Robert L. Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, who has advanced a strategy known as "empowerment" for aiding minorities and the poor as an alternative to "race-specific" affirmative-action laws, said he was "pleased" with Mr. Bush's address.
But Clint Bolick, director of the conservative Landmark Center for Civil Rights, who also played a major role in trying to persuade Mr. Bush to advance "empowerment" measures as a viable alternative to traditional civil rights laws, said afterward, "We've got a lot more work to do."
Mr. Bush's plan included proposals that would:
* Give parents and students wider choice in choosing schools.
* Offer incentives to schools to raise their standards.
* Create enterprise zones aimed at luring businesses to low-income areas.
* Increase opportunities for homeownership among low-income residents.
* Enable communities to gain greater control over their use of federal welfare, education and health programs.
* Provide neighborhoods with more protection against crime.
* Liberalize the Social Security earnings test, which penalizes people ages 65 to 69 who keep working.