The House Appropriations Committee has slashed more than $230 million from President Bush's proposed increases for drug treatment, prevention and education programs, an action national drug control director William J. Bennett yesterday denounced as "unbelievable."
"I'm mad as hell," Bennett said in a telephone interview. "Bill Bennett is not going to take any more Democratic garbage about the need for more treatment, education and prevention. . . . This is cheap, dishonest and sneaky. . . I'll be damned if I will take any more criticism from that crowd. So shut up, guys."
Rep. William H. Natcher (D-Ky.), chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that made the cuts, said that Bennett's contentions were "absolutely incorrect." He said funding levels approved by the panel were "fully adequate for the program he has underway at this time."
Bennett said he feared the committee's action may be seen as a sign that the drug isssue "is off the front burner." He added: "I thought the whole point of creating this office was to have a certain consistency over time in this effort. . . . Now what we've got is more damn political crap from the Congress."
The committee action came during deliberations on the $43.9 billion funding bill for the departments of labor, health and human services, and education, and received little attention until yesterday.
Meeting June 20 in a closed session, Natcher's subcommittee approved $1.13 billion for four main drug treatment, education and prevention programs -- $20 million more than last year's levels, but far less than the $253 million increase just for drug programs called for in Bush's budget.
The $1.13 billion figure was approved by the full committee without debate last Thursday. The full appropriations bill is $4.9 billion over current spending levels, with increases targeted for biomedical and AIDS research, special education programs for disadvantaged and handicapped children, and inner city job training. The measure is slated to go to the House floor on Thursday.
The programs where the committee cut the president's budget include the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA) block grant program, the main federal vehicle to fund states' drug treatment programs. The committee eliminated a proposed $100 million increase and kept it at present levels. "As many as 100,000 people could lose access to treatment" if the panel's actions hold up, said Bennett spokesman David Tell.
In addition, an Education Department Drug-Free Schools program was cut $238,000 below current levels; an Office of Substance Abuse/Community Partnership grant program was funded at $41.7 million below Bush's request; and a new "treatment improvement grant" program was given $35.6 million below Bush's request.
Natcher said the subcommittee acted in part because of doubts about the effectiveness of some of these programs. "I personally like Bill Bennett," Natcher said. "But if you inquire around, a great many people will tell you he has not placed into effect a drug program which has proved to be successful. . . I think you'd find generally a consensus that his plans and programs have not been successful."
Panel members were also influenced by the states' slowness in drawing down increases granted to the ADAMHA program in recent years, panel sources said.