President Reagan says his inclination is to support a 10-year extension of the Voting Rights Act without seeking to extend it nationwide.
In a farewell interview with The Washington Star, Reagan also promised to propose a special welfare payment for the genuinely needy who lose the $122-a-month minimum Social Security benefit. The new payment would not come from Social Security trust funds.
The president proposed killing the minimum benefit, and Congress complied last week, but public reaction has been so adverse that first Congress and now Reagan have made clear they will take a second look.
Reagan said he has dropped his support for making the Voting Rights Act apply equally to all 50 states after being persuaded that such action might make the law too cumbersome to enforce effectively.
The president's change of mind appeared to clear a major obstacle to renewel of the act first passed in 1965, but civil rights groups are concerned that the Justice Department is considering other alterations that would weaken the act.
At the heart of the debate is how rigidly and for how long the nine states and parts of 13 others found to have discriminated in the past should be required to obtain advance approval from Justice for any changes in voting regulations or procedures.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), chief Republican spokesman on the act in the House, has proposed a system in which a formerly discriminatory jurisdiction could escape the preclearance requirement, and civil rights groups fear Justice also will advocate such escape hatches on terms the groups consider too lenient.
On June 28 in Los Angeles, Reagan described voting as a "sacred right" but said he had always believed the act should be applied to all states. The next week, Reagan dodged the issued at the NAACP convention in Denver, saying he would put off his decision until after Justice reviewed the act.
Reagan told The Star Tuesday that he is awaiting the attorney general's report, which is due by Oct 1.
After making his June 28 statement, Reagan said, "I since have learned from a number of people interested in that that may not be a good solution, that it might make it so cumbersome as to not be bffectively workable. And, so, I yield to that if that's true that extending it to all the states would interfere with its working."
Reagan said he is waiting for the Justice study to make sure "that there aren't some things that need to be covered that aren't covered yet."
On the minimum Social Security benefit, Reagan hinted there would be no blanket restoration, as some critics of the administration have demanded, but that the "truly needy," at most a few hundred thousand, would be protected.
"What we want to do," he said, "is to get rid of those people" for whom the $122 minimum "is not a necessity, and then take care of those other people in some way that does not raid the Social Security fund."
The administration does not want to restore the benefit for all 3 million now on the rolls. Social Security Commissioner John A. Svahn told a luncheon meeting at the Washington Press Club yesterday he would determine which recipients are truly needy and provide a special form of aid for them.
The administration has repeatedly argued that all but 150,000 to 300,000 of the current beneficiaries could shift to other Social Security accounts, receive Welfare under existing programs or actually do not need the money because of other pensions they are collecting.
In passing the budget bill, Congress repealed the minimum benefit which, because of special provisions, is as much as $170 a month in many cases.
Under the repeal provision, projected to bring savings of $7 billion over the next five years for the Social Security trust funds, one's benefits will be based entirely on what his earnings record entitles him to under Social Security formulas without the protection of a minimum floor. The repeal takes effect next March.
Public reaction, encouraged by Democrats, was so strong that the House voted overwhelmingly to restore the minimum benefit Friday, the same day it repealed the benefit by passing the budget bill.
The repeal stays in effect, pending Senate action.
Reagan visited The Star for his interview and a luncheon three days before the newspaper is scheduled to be closed if a buyer cannot be found. It was the first long interview he has given to a newspaper since he was wounded in an assassination attempt March 30.
He was asked whether there were any things he would do differently. "I wouldn't have gone to the Hilton Hotel," Reagan joked. He was shot as he left the Washington Hilton after addressing a luncheon audience.
The president said he supports efforts to bar abortion, reintroduce a voluntary prayer in schools and end busing, but he indicated that he would not take the lead in pushing these issues. Republican members of Congress are expected to seek action on these so-called social issues.