THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY HUD SECRETARY HENRY CISNEROS
The Briefing Room
1:16 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: And a silenced hush settles in over the briefing room. I just love that.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for being here today with me, I guess. I would like to start today -- the President today at the Empowerment Zone Enterprise Community Conference outlined, I think, a very creative approach to community revitalization. He talked at some length on that. That's something that the President has been working very closely on with the Vice President as we address the whole issue of empowerment strategies for communities that face economic distress.
The Vice President has been working to constitute a community empowerment board which the President has now formally set up, with the Vice President as Chair and 15 other agencies participating. And Vice President Gore has already been traveling around the country extensively visiting some of the empowerment zones that the administration has already designated in talking with leaders and local communities about how we can revitalize neighborhoods and get American citizens participating in rebuilding the economic life of communities that have very often faced hard economic times, obviously, especially in urban areas.
Last week President Clinton asked Vice President Gore to work with Congress and within the administration in his capacity as Chair of this Community Empowerment Board to find a way to give specific preferences in government set-aside contracts to firms that are located in economically-disadvantaged areas. I think some of you will recall that that was one very important element and, frankly, a new element of the report on affirmative action that we released last Wednesday when the President gave his speech and something I think you'll see a lot more discussion of as we go ahead in coming months responding to the demands of the Supreme Court in Adarand and as we also address some of the other issues that grow out of the policy review on affirmative action that the President has conducted.
But along with that, along with the report today that the President discussed on urban America, I think it's a good time to have a special guest here, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, who can talk a little bit more about some of this work that's underway and then take any questions that you might have as a follow-up to the President's remarks.
Henry, good to have you here.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Thank you very much.
The President, a moment ago, addressed the assembled group of cities, led by their mayors who have been selected as the first round of empowerment zones. Those cities include New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Oakland, Kansas City, Houston and Boston. A very impressive assemblage of municipal leaders, community leaders, business leaders from those places. And the President set out his view in a very concise and, I think, effective way of what a national urban policy can be, based on the experience, the early experience of these empowerment zones.
The President set forth four themes within which most of our urban initiatives of the last two years very concisely fit. First, to link families to work. To reward work. And, clearly, you know the earned income tax credit, the increasing of the minimum wage, the reform of welfare, the investments in education, Head Start, Goals 2000 -- all of these fit within the rubric of linking families to work.
A second theme of this urban policy is to leverage private investment. The President's initiatives in the community development banks, the Community Reinvestment Act, the empowerment zones, the one-stop center of the Small Business Administration, the work of the Department of Commerce and Transportation -- all of these fit into that context of leveraging private investment and bringing private investment back to the cities.
The third dimension is a real respect for local policies, locally driven, locally based. And this empowerment zone process is the classic example of how we pay respect both to local leaders, elected leaders, as well as to community-based organizations. The work of many of the Cabinet departments to try to relate from the ground up, bottom up, was demonstrated in the meetings that have occurred this morning.
And the fourth and final piece of this national urban strategy statement is to focus on community standards and traditional values, individual values -- welfare reform; the benefits in return for work in national service; the financial responsibility built into the Family Leave Act; the focus on anticrime initiatives including boot camp and drug courts, the Brady Bill, the assault weapons ban. All of these fit into a context of safer places through focusing on individual values and community standards.
The President this morning did this in the context of the empowerment zones discussion going on, in the context of his speech last week on affirmative action which you will recall included an element of focusing on placed-based strategies where race-based strategies by law cannot be applicable -- set-asides programs that would be place-based as opposed to racially-based -- and directed the Vice President to organize and lead an effort to look at how that can be done.
The President this morning set this out in, I think, the most sweeping statement of urban policy in this administration. And he noted that several weeks ago Speaker Gingrich had indicated that he was not ready to talk about ending affirmative action because there was not a positive piece to replace it. While the Speaker opposes affirmative action, he cautioned a go-slow strategy on ending it because there was not a positive piece. The President today suggested what the positive elements of that ought to be and invited the Speaker to join him in cooperation on an empowerment agenda. The empowerment agenda that includes the kinds of things I've just described.
Now, let me just say briefly that, in contrast to this kind of positive statement, the Congress is cutting urban programs across the board and deeply. The House VA-HUD appropriations bill cut HUD 27 percent between this year and next, from $26.1 billion to $19.1. The House Transportation appropriations bill cuts mass transit by 44 percent, from $710 million to $400 million. The House Labor and HHS appropriations bill cuts Title I education by $1.1 billion, reduces Head Start by $135 million, eliminates the summer jobs programs and cuts basic vocational education. And the House Commerce, State and Justice Appropriations Committees cuts the Economic Development Administration jobs programs by $91 million.
So, in contrast to the President setting out a coherent vision, an empowerment agenda of how all of our programs fit together, link together and create a real positive sense in urban areas, what we're seeing is these kinds of random and across the board cuts that will do real damage. These cuts will take jobs and private investment and income out of the inner-city neighborhoods of the very cities that are here today to talk about empowerment. It will shift cost from the federal government to state and local governments and create a new round of fiscal hardships as we are seeing across the country in the cities.
It targets the deepest cuts, Republican cuts to programs that serve the lowest income families and distressed urban communities. The Americans who are the most vulnerable and who are the most needy are getting hurt the worst -- a 27-percent cut at HUD; hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of dollars at HHS.
It will dramatically reduce assistance to low-income children and youth, assuring that these cuts are not just one-time cuts, but that they have a long-term reiterative effect over the years as they touch future generations. The greatest worry, frankly, for me, the saddest thing about these cuts is how long it will take to reverse them even if the politics of the country changes and control of the Congress changes, because of the damage that they will do that will last across the years.
And, finally, it will exacerbate the economic disparities between central cities and suburbs that have driven such divisions in our society by race, income and geography.
So the contrast is a very clear one between a coherent urban message based on the experience of these empowerment zones that the President presented today in a wonderfully thoughtful address, and in contrast to that, despite the Speaker's belief that positive things need to be put in place, what we're seeing in action is a round of cuts that is going to do this dimension of damage.
That's my statement. I'll be happy to take your questions.
Q Do you have any -- do you know of any time frame on the affirmative action piece of this? That is, is this something you're going to come up with in a few weeks, a few months?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: The Vice President has already begun to work on this. I was with him this weekend in Austin, Texas, when we met with a group of leaders from the United States Conference of Mayors to begin to discuss how this can be done. I don't want to tie him down to a time frame, but my guess is that over the course of the next several months you would see the results of a tough task which is to square federal procurement issues, which he's been working on, with a place-based strategy that focuses on a criteria like distress as an additional dimension of where federal procurement would go.
It's a tough assignment, but given his experience on both sides of this equation, I'm certain the Vice President will work through it in the next several months.
Q On the same point, the White House noted, when the President gave his affirmative action speech, that there's an annual $200-billion pot for procurement in the federal government, and that under the mandate of the Vice President that you've just described, some of this money was going to go to these distressed areas. Do you or the Vice President have at least a ball park estimate of how much of that $200 billion might be set aside for the special --
SECRETARY CISNEROS: I think it's too early for that. I think that until we get into looking at the criteria, how this would work exactly, it's just too early to make any kind of a guess about that number. That's a huge number that relates to everything that the federal government purchases, from jet airplanes to submarines and paper clips and paper. And obviously, some of it lends itself to investment in central city and distressed areas; some of it does not. And, so the judgments will have to be made after the task force begins its work.
Q Mr. Secretary, is it your assumption that it would take legislation and executive order, and-or both?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: I'm not making any assumptions about it, but my sense is that some of the constraints will be statutory and probably would require some rethinking of legislative issues. It's too early to say, but that's my sense of that.
Q Any reaction from the Speaker? You've mentioned him quite a lot.
SECRETARY CISNEROS: The President made the speech less than an hour ago, and in it he noted that the Speaker, himself, had said that he did not want to move forward on ending affirmative action until there was a replacement for it. The President has offered a coherent empowerment agenda that is a replacement for traditional thinking. It focuses on work. It focuses on private investment. It focuses on community-based strategies -- all of which the Speaker and the Republicans have said they favor.
What the President has said is, join us in moving an empowerment agenda forward, instead of these random cuts driven by a requirement to balance the budget in seven years -- a self-imposed requirement to balance the budget in seven years to provide these massive tax cuts at the upper levels, and to set some priorities that in our view are just the wrong priorities.
There's been no response from the Speaker, obviously, in the last hour. But the President did lay this out in this framework.
Q Mr. Secretary, if this is linked to affirmative action reforms that the President just talked about a couple of days ago, how come it's not mentioned, not once, in this overview that you just handed out?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: Well, what I have presented is a statement of urban policy that we have been working on for a long time, which, by the way, is a congressionally-required submission. It is completely place-based. And what the assignment that the Vice President has is to begin to think about set-asides not in a context of race-based strategies, but of place-based. It's my understanding that there is a reference in the document. Mike, you might direct to the precise point.
Q On page two, there is a reference to expanding employment and business opportunities for those isolated in declining city neighborhoods through reformulation of the federal contracting system. Is this --
SECRETARY CISNEROS: No reference to affirmative action, per se. Okay.
Q Congressman Kasich said today that HUD is the next S&L scandal. Do you have a response to him?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: We're working very hard to anticipate any liabilities that the government may have encumbered over the years through building apartments and providing certificates and vouchers behind them. We have a plan that we think will save the government money in the long run and still acknowledge a responsibility to house poor people. That line, the next S&L scandal, is a nice line to trot out. It conjures up all kinds of images. In my view, it is just not reflective of the facts. It is not a true statement about what lies ahead for us.
We, in fact, are working with very responsible members of the Congress -- Republican leaders like Senator Kit Bond, who is worried about some of the obligations we have for the long haul, as are we. We're working together with them to fashion a response. We've been working on this for six months and think we have a handle on it.
Q One more question, Mr. Secretary. Some of the empowerment zone people from Chicago and other places were talking about the slowness in which the federal government moving on waivers so that local businesses can be established. What particular attention will be given to this?
SECRETARY CISNEROS: One of the tasks of this community empowerment board is to move the individual federal departments toward responding when communities raise questions of waivers. We think we're doing pretty well, attempting to respond to their requests for all kinds of waivers. Some of them are statutorily based, and therefore, we cannot respond through administrative procedures. But where possible, we are stretching the limits, going beyond tradition to really draw a fine line between those things that are statutory and can't be changed and those that have just grown up in practice.
It's always been done this way. There's an interpretation of a law that is not quite accurate. Regulations have sprung up that can be changed by the departments. We're doing, I think, a reasonably good job. We can always do better and this effort is designed to push the departments to do better on this score and to be accountable. We actually have a scoring system that shows how many requests have come in, what departments have responded, on what time frame, so we can track the job that's being done.
Thank you very much.
END 1:32 P.M. EDT