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Dole Aims at Affirmative Action

By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 1995; Page A10

Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) introduced broad legislation yesterday that would go beyond a recent Supreme Court ruling and end race- and gender-based federal affirmative action programs.

The bill, the product of months of discussions, fulfills a promise Dole made earlier this year and gives the GOP's leading presidential contender a marker in the tense national debate about where remedies to discrimination should begin and end. The same bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.).

"For too many of our citizens," said Dole, "our country is no longer the land of opportunity but a pie chart, where jobs and other benefits are often awarded not because of hard work or merit, but because of someone's biology." Dole said his bill would "get the federal government out of the business of dividing Americans and into the business of uniting Americans."

Affirmative action proponents, however, portrayed the legislation as anything but unifying, saying it would wipe out 30 years of civil rights enforcement policies. The bill demonstrates how far Dole is on the issue from President Clinton, who said last week a review of federal affirmative action programs showed they work and that cases of reverse discrimination are rare. Ironically, Dole once supported some of the same policies he now wants to abolish.

The Dole-Canady bill comes as Republicans in Congress are moving uncomfortably between a full-steam-ahead approach to dismantling affirmative action and a go-slow approach designed to signal to minorities and women that the party wants to be thoughtful in its deliberations and not hostile to their concerns. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) reiterated this week that Republicans should not "use affirmative action as a wedge issue" and "should focus more of our energy on how we design a helping hand."

But the Republican presidential contenders have been steadily driving the effort to scuttle affirmative action programs. Urged on by California Gov. Pete Wilson, who is defining his candidacy with calls to end affirmative action, the University of California regents voted last week to end race-based admissions policies on its campuses.

Yesterday, Dole and Canady were flanked by a "rainbow coalition" of conservative Hispanics, blacks, white women, Asian Americans and white men in an elaborate ceremony at the Capitol intended to signal broad public support for the bill. So far, Dole has eight co-sponsors in the Senate. Canady said he has 70 in the House.

Called the "Equal Opportunity Act of 1995," the Dole-Canady bill would end the use of "racial and gender preferences" in federal contracting, hiring and other federally conducted activities. It would not ban the government from engaging in "outreach" and recruitment, the new GOP buzzwords for affirmative action.

In one major distinction, the Dole-Canady bill defines "preferential treatment" much more broadly than the Clinton administration does. The bill would prohibit timetables and goals for achieving racial and gender balance in the federal government, equating such methods with quotas. The administration argues that timetables and goals can be used to achieve diversity, and that its review found little evidence that federal affirmative action programs have unduly burdened nonbeneficiaries.

The Republican legislation also goes beyond what the Supreme Court ruled in Adarand v. Pena when it said federal affirmative action programs must be narrowly tailored and serve a compelling governmental interest. Civil rights activists have noted that seven of the nine justices indicated that there was room for race-based remedies in certain circumstances.

But a Dole aide said the court had left open what constitutes a "compelling government interest," and added that the legislation was an attempt to set a new standard for the use of race and gender by the federal government. "We're saying that whether or not it is constitutional, this is our policy," the aide said. "The fact that it is constitutional does not make it wise public policy."

Canady said House hearings on the bill will be held in September, but that he didn't expect the legislation to reach the floor before early next year, if not later. A Dole aide said one Senate hearing would be held in September and there was the possibility that another session would be held as early as August. But it is doubtful the bill will reach the Senate floor before year's end.

Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee Chairman Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.), whose committee would have partial jurisdiction over the legislation, indicated earlier this week that she favors reforming but not ending race- and gender-based affirmative action programs.

As one indication of the Senate's mood for dealing with affirmative action right now, an amendment to eliminate set-asides for minorities and women was overwhelmingly defeated last week. Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), the amendment's author and Dole's chief presidential rival, has since scaled back on his promise to offer his amendment on every appropriations bill that reaches the Senate floor, acknowledging he has little chance for success.

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents of affirmative action argued yesterday about the merits and impact of the Dole legislation.

Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice called the legislation "one of the most important civil rights bills ever introduced in Congress."

And Robert Woodson, president of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, said the bill will end "what has become a racial spoils system."

But Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, described the bill as just another tool to be used in Dole's presidential campaign. "It's a shame," he said. "One day it's Gramm, the next day it's Wilson, the next day it's Dole. But I think it's going to come back to haunt them as these misconceptions about affirmative action get straightened out."

© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company

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