WASHINGTON -- With the House scheduled to vote on the civil rights bill as early as tomorrow, Democratic congressional leaders charge that President Bush wants a political issue for 1992 more than a new law this year and is deliberately misrepresenting their attempt at compromise.
In sharply worded responses to Bush's attack a day earlier on the Democratic-sponsored civil rights measure, House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Rep. Don Edwards of California yesterday sought to take the moral high ground on an issue that has taken on enormous political symbolism for both sides.
Bush, addressing graduates at the U.S. Military Academy, had criticized the Democratic compromise bill as based on hiring quotas and said that it encourages litigation more than cooperation.
Gephardt, on NBC's Meet the Press, said yesterday: "I think the president wants a political issue. He doesn't want a positive outcome."
Edwards, chairman of the civil and constitutional rights subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, added: "There are no quotas in this bill. I am sure the president knows this." Edwards was interviewed on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley".
With the presidential election approaching next year, public opinion polls have shown that most Americans oppose the notion of hiring quotas.
In recent weeks, House Democrats have been trying to craft a veto-proof bill that would reverse a series of 1989 Supreme Court decisions restricting the ability of workers to win job discrimination lawsuits. Bush vetoed civil rights legislation last session, citing the quota argument, and the House fell 17 votes short of overriding his veto.
The new bill explicitly bars quotas as an employment practice. In addition, to gain support among business leaders, it limits the amount of punitive damages that can be awarded by courts to victims of non-racial job discrimination, such as women, the disabled and religious minorities.
Administration officials, however, say that the measure would result in the use of hiring quotas by creating a situation in which employers would use quota systems as a defense against lawsuits alleging discriminatory hiring patterns.
Gephardt charged that White House officials "decided a long time ago they're not going to have a settlement of this issue."