President Bush yesterday proposed an 11 percent increase in spending on the war against drugs and declared the administration has achieved the goals set in September 1989 when the first national drug control strategy was unveiled.
Announcing an updated strategy and new budget proposals for fiscal year 1992, Bush said the request to add nearly $1.2 billion to the current budget of $10.5 billion "persuasively demonstrates that our administration is committed to defeating the menace of drugs."
His statements came in a hastily arranged ceremony at the Old Executive Office Building. The drug strategy is due by law today, but officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy were informed only Wednesday that the president, who has come under some criticism for neglecting domestic issues, might want to announce the drug strategy yesterday.
Bush seemed to allude to that impetus in his remarks. "I expect some wonder whether I am totally preoccupied with events halfway around the world," Bush said. "And I really wanted to take this opportunity to come over here to you who have done so much in this fight to let you know you're not alone."
The strategy and budget proposals largely followed the general pattern set out in the initial strategy and last year's follow-up report, with about 70 percent of the money earmarked for reducing drug supplies and about 30 percent focused on efforts such as prevention and treatment.
The budget for domestic law enforcement would total $5.2 billion in 1992, while international efforts and border interdiction would receive $2.9 billion.
Drug treatment funds would increase by 10 percent, to $1.7 billion, and prevention and education efforts would receive $1.5 billion.
The strategy calls once again for expanding the federal death penalty to cover "major" drug kingpins, those who attempt to kill in order to obstruct justice and federal drug felons whose offense results in death.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said the administration's proposal "takes some additional steps in the right direction -- but falls far short of what must be done to combat the drug epidemic." Biden said claims of victory in the drug war "are premature."
Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Select Committee on Narcotics Abuse and Control, said in an interview that the administration's drug strategy "was nothing last year and it's nothing this year. Talking about more money is certainly not the solution to the problem."
And Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), chairman of the Government Operations Committee, complained that the White House did not consult Congress before unveiling the policy. "Apparently, there was a greater concern for media value than policy in the release of this report," he said.
In a briefing yesterday, the acting director of the drug policy office, John P. Walters, said, "We have either met or exceeded" the nine goals set out in September 1989. For example, drug use is down 11 percent, according to the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, more than the goal of a 10 percent reduction.
However, data were not available for two of the goals -- drug availability and domestic marijuana production. And a Democratic Senate aide pointed out that the household survey figures, even if accurately measuring drug use, were taken in March 1990, just a few months after the strategy was announced.
"I don't care how great the strategy was. It didn't work that fast," the aide said.