Rare White House-Congress alliance on jobs, aid to cities is short-lived

May 20, 1992|By Karen Hosler | Karen Hosler,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- One week into a rare alliance between the White House and Congress to meet the urgent urban needs highlighted by the Los Angeles riots, and the romance is over.

President Bush wants his "New America" agenda met without giving the Democratic leaders of Congress much -- if anything -- in return. The Democrats are determined to push for more. Name calling has resumed.

"It's reality setting in," Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole observed after a meeting at the White House yesterday morning. As usual, the Kansas Republican said, the problem is "money, money."

Some action is still expected, most everyone agrees.

President Bush yesterday assigned his top aide, White House Chief of Staff Samuel K. Skinner, to work with the lawmakers over the next few days to come up with compromise legislation intended to stimulate the revival of Los Angeles and other cities over the long term.

The president wants a $4 billion package of self-help measures, such as tax incentives for inner-city businesses, that can be financed by juggling around some other social spending.

The Democratic leaders are talking about supplementing that with a public service jobs programs that would require a transfer of about $5 billion to $6 billion from the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, the Senate is moving on its own to add a $1.5 billion summer jobs and schooling proposal to an $800 million emergency fund of disaster loans and grants that Mr. Bush requested last week for the burned Los Angeles communities.

"At the end of the day, we'll probably get a package that represents the unsatisfactory middle," predicted a House Democratic leadership aide. "It won't be up to the task but it will be something we can agree on."

Election-year politics is prompting this awkward pairing. President Bush and the lawmakers are equally fearful that their inability to respond to a major national disaster will convince voters that such seemingly ineffective leaders should be replaced.

But the two sides also have competing constituencies to serve and political points to be scored. And they are so used to bickering they don't seem to be able to resist.

"The president said, 'Let's do what we can do quickly,' " said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "That means just do what he's for. And what he's for is relatively minor."

Sen. John Seymour, a California Republican, said Democrats seeking to add more expensive proposals onto the president's list want to "make a Christmas tree out of this. . . . If this is going to be some spending orgy that's going to crash, it will crash on partisan lines."

The political divide is not strictly along party lines, however.

In the Senate, there is "a lot of interest" among Republicans, Senator Dole reported, of resurrecting and modernizing the Civilian Conservation Corps -- the 1930s jobs program of the Depression that put many Americans back to work on public works projects.

There is also broad support for that concept among Democrats. And James Pinkerton, a top issues adviser to President Bush's re-election campaign, has been promoting it regularly there.

TC But, Senator Dole said, "we're told by the White House, boy, that costs a lot of money."

In the House, Republican members, who tend to represent suburban and rural areas rather than cities, are not so eager to get involved in urban renewal at all. Most opposed the emergency disaster relief bill when it passed the House last week.

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