The Reagan administration's plan to end most federal aid to cities received the same chilly reception yesterday from Democratic congressmen that it has been given by mayors of those troubled cities.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Samuel R. Pierce Jr. assured a Joint Economic Committee hearing that the administration is not "abandoning our cities, as some claim" but "seeking new and better means to meet the needs of urban America."
But committee Chairman Rep. Henry S. Reuss (D-Wis.) charged that the plan rejects "the notion of liberty and justice for all as a national responsibility" contained in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Instead, he said, the administration's proposal to cut urban aid and shift responsibilities to state and local governments and the private sector reflects the "idea that each community is a financial law unto itself."
The hearings were the first in a series on the administration's National Urban Policy Report, its first statement under a law requiring an urban policy report be submitted to Congress every two years.
A final, toned-down version of the report was released last week after a leaked draft sparked a furor at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month.
The draft criticized federal aid for imposing crippling dependence on cities and transforming their mayors from "bold leaders" into "wily stalkers of federal aid."
While the final version did not include that inflammatory language, it contained the same basic recommendations--curtailing almost all direct federal aid and limiting federal involvement to such activities as "gathering information" for local officials and sponsoring experimental urban enterprise zones.
"The key to healthy cities is a healthy economy," Pierce told the committee, calling the president's economic recovery program and his "New Federalism" philosophy the cornerstones of Reagan's urban policy.
"We've gotten a federal government so involved in state and local affairs that it has been calling the tune," Pierce said. "The system has not worked."
But Rep. Parren J. Mitchell (D-Md.) warned that ending federal aid would be a "fatal mistake" at a time when "cities are in desperate condition."
In a prepared statement, Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, said, "There is a legitimate, important role for the federal government in aiding cities--and doing so directly, rather than through the states."
Urban aid should not be left up to states, most of which do "little or nothing to target assistance to their distressed cities," warned Young, who is to appear before the committee this morning.
Likewise, Young said, it is "simplistic and naive" of the administration to expect the private sector to assume "responsibilities abdicated by the federal government."
Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, first vice president of the National League of Cities, termed the administration's urban policy an after-the-fact "rationalizaton" developed to justify its budget cuts.
"Since urban aid had to be cut, the policy denounces federal programs as harmful to the cities," he charged. "Since the urban poor were destined to be set adrift, without training and without jobs, the authors chose to make a virtue of dislocation."
The administration's portrayal of cities as "urban methodone freaks tied to some sort of main line in Washington, D.C., is a wrongheaded notion," Royer said.
"Intervention makes a difference," he said, citing progress in Seattle and Baltimore, where President Reagan delivered his New Federalism speech yesterday.