Bush chides fellow Republicans for not helping the poor enough

Swipe at party included in speech on changing federal funding of schools

October 06, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK -- Gov. George W. Bush of Texas used a speech about his proposals for improving education yesterday to issue a pointed critique of the Republican Party, saying that it had put too much emphasis on economic wealth and too little on social problems.

It was the second time in less than a week that Bush, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, had cast fellow Republicans as insensitive and had seemed to be establishing some distance from them. On Thursday, Bush accused House Republicans of trying to "balance the budget on the backs of the poor."

Yesterday, addressing hundreds of people in a hotel in midtown Manhattan, Bush digressed somewhat from a discussion of his education proposals -- including a major expansion of charter schools -- to offer a sort of apologia for the priorities that many Republicans have set and for the image that they have projected.

"Too often, my party has focused on the national economy, to the exclusion of all else, speaking a sterile language of rates and numbers, CBO and GNP," Bush said, referring to the Congressional Budget Office and the Gross National Product.

"Of course we want vigor and growth in our economy," Bush continued. "But there are human problems that persist in the shadow of affluence. And the strongest argument for conservative ideals -- for responsibility and accountability and the virtues of our tradition -- is that they lead to greater justice, less suffering, more opportunity."

Bush seemed to challenge fellow Republicans not only to look beyond the bottom line when assessing the state of the nation, but also to devote as much energy to problem-solving as to stern moralizing.

"Too often, my party has confused the need for limited government with a disdain for government itself," he said.

Bush's speech was the second of three that he plans to deliver this year on education, an issue he is making a cornerstone of his campaign. In it, he outlined a plan for the federal government to give states much more discretion over how they spend federal dollars, to create financial incentives for states to improve student performance, and to pave the way for more charter schools.

Bush's support of charter schools extended to a promise that if he is elected president, he will allocate $300 million over two years to guarantee $3 billion worth of private loans for the establishment of new charter schools.

With that proposal and others, Bush was advocating an increase in federal spending on education, a commitment sure to displease some conservative Republicans.

His harsh appraisal of some of them came during a campaign swing through a city and state that has favored the Democratic nominee in the last three presidential elections. To compete effectively in New York, Bush may well have to appeal to moderate Democrats.

Karen P. Hughes, a spokeswoman for Bush, said that he was merely continuing to flesh out the meaning of "compassionate conservatism" and that it was mostly coincidental that he was doing so in New York. But, Hughes added, "In a place like New York in particular, the Republican Party has seemed harsh."

In August, Bush advocated taking some federal aid away from failing schools and giving it to parents so that they could use it for private tuition or tutors. It was essentially a voucher plan, although he did not word it that way.

The governor's speech yesterday expanded on his promotion of alternatives to public schools where student test scores show no improvement. He said that the federal government should require all students from the third to eighth grades be tested annually in reading and math, and that schools should be financially rewarded or punished based on the results.

Pub Date: 10/06/99

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