Gore Announces New Civil Rights Enforcement Push
Administration will propose $86 million in extra spending to enforce civil rights laws, he says
By Craig Staats/AllPolitics
ATLANTA (Jan. 19) -- Vice President Al Gore, in a speech to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, today announced the administration will seek an $86 million budget increase for civil rights enforcement and work to end a backlog of employment discrimination complaints.
Gore offered the initiative during a theology-laden speech at Atlanta's historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where the famed 1960s civil rights leader preached. King was killed by a sniper in Memphis in 1968.
Gore said the nation has made progress in combating racism and inequality since King died, but the job isn't over. He drew
a standing ovation when he criticized opponents of affirmative action
who misuse King's words to urge government outreach programs be scrapped.
Gore said King would be surprised that "some who actively oppose his agenda roll his words and phrases off their tongue even as they try to roll back equal opportunity.
"The phrase 'the content of our character' takes on a different meaning when it is used by those who pretend that that is all we need to establish a color-blind society," Gore said to cheers. "They use their color blind the way duck hunters use their duck blinds. They hide behind the phrase and hope that we, like the ducks, won't be able to see through it."
Gore said the Clinton Administration has boosted African-American employment and reduced African-American poverty, but the nation remains vulnerable to a persistent racism.
People who think King's struggle is over "fail to recognize that the tap root of racism is almost 400 years long," Gore said.
Gore said the added funds for civil rights are a priority and evidence of the administration's commitment at a time when other spending is steady or falling.
Sources told CNN the president's fiscal 1999 budget will propose $602 million for civil rights enforcement programs at an array of federal agencies, from the departments of Justice, Labor and Housing and Urban Development to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). That represents an $86 million increase over the current year's budget for these programs.
The EEOC in particular has been criticized for failing to clear its massive backlog of workplace discrimination cases. Sources say the president will propose a 15 percent increase in the commission's budget, to $279 million, including $13 million in new spending to encourage alternative ways of resolving disputes, such as mediation and other efforts to settle cases short of going to court. Officials say that should help reduce the case backlog.
Allowing Gore to make the announcement was the latest gesture by the president to help Gore as he courts core Democratic constituencies and lays the groundwork for a presidential run in 2000.
CNN's John King contributed to this report.