Democrats, Bush signal support for urban agenda Enterprise zones, summer jobs top list

May 12, 1992|By Charles Green and David Hess | Charles Green and David Hess,Knight-Ridder News Service

WASHINGTON -- Under mounting public pressure to put aside their political differences, President Bush and congressional leaders appear ready to declare a truce long enough to see if they can develop a bipartisan urban agenda in response to the Los Angeles riots.

The two sides will confer today at the White House, the first time this year Mr. Bush has met with Democratic leaders on a domestic issue.

The Democrats signaled willingness to compromise yesterday, pledging to back some of the president's urban proposals, such as enterprise zones, if he supports a Democratic package of short-term measures that includes a summer jobs program for inner-city youth.

For his part, Mr. Bush displayed his newfound interest in urban problems by visiting an inner-city neighborhood in Philadelphia to tout crime prevention and targeted social services. The visit was hastily arranged to occur before his appearance at a political fund-raising dinner.

Community leaders welcomed Mr. Bush's plan to spend $1.1 million in "weed and seed" money in Philadelphia for crime and social programs, but they said it was too little to fight the epidemic of crack cocaine.

"Five blocks from here is a vacant hospital that could be used for drug rehabilitation and job training, and we don't have the money," said community leader Efrain Rios.

Mr. Bush said at one point: "What we're doing we will concede is not enough."

The attention to urban problems came as a New York Times/CBS News poll found that majorities of both whites and blacks said investing in jobs programs would do more to prevent further riots than strengthening police forces. The poll suggests that responding to the riots with appeals for law and order will not satisfy the public.

Both Mr. Bush and Congress have reasons to act in the aftermath of the Los Angeles violence. For Mr. Bush, it is an opportunity to counter criticism that he has a do-nothing approach to domestic problems. For Congress, it gives incumbents in both parties a chance to convince the public that they can do more than overdraw checking accounts and engage in political posturing.

"If the Democrats want to go along with some of the things the president is talking about, then I think Republicans ought to be willing to listen to some things that they're talking about," said Sen. Pete V. Domenici of New Mexico, the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee.

Democratic congressional leaders also sounded conciliatory.

"If we stop arguing about the past and begin collaborating about the future," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, "we can send a powerful message to Watts, to urban areas across our country, . . . that their government can heal rather than divide, govern rather than bicker, and advance their interests as one people."

The Democrats urged Mr. Bush to request more money for summer jobs for inner-city youths and to speed up spending on road projects in metropolitan areas. They promised to increase financing for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack F. Kemp's HOPE program for low-income home ownership in exchange for administration support for more low-income rental assistance.

The depth and endurance of Mr. Bush's interest remains unclear, but for now at least he shows signs of wanting to work with Congress. White House officials cautioned that Mr. Bush is unlikely to advocate major new spending programs. Instead, he is likely to lobby for proposals such as enterprise zones, which give tax breaks to entice businesses to inner-city neighborhoods, and increased tenant ownership of public housing, the officials said.

A potential source of funds could be a bill to eliminate spending for projects considered unnecessary or wasteful. Sen. Arlen tTC Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health and education, suggested that the measure could yield as much as $2 billion for urban programs.

Some Democrats said more spending will be essential. "Anything that purports to resolve this without resources is as phony as a $3 bill," said Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

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