PLACING THE BLAME
SEPTEMBER 4, 1996
The worrisome report on rising drug use has begun to make waves on Capitol Hill. Margaret Warner starts with a backgrounder, then engages Senators Orrin Hatch and Joe Biden in a discussion.
MARGARET WARNER: A new issue has suddenly emerged in the presidential campaign, the recent rise in teenage drug use. The presidential candidates are talking about it, and so are the candidates' commercials. All this attention was prompted by a Health & Human Services study released two weeks ago showing that drug use among teenagers had doubled between 1992 and 1995, after 10 years of steady decline. 11 percent of adolescents now admitted they'd used drugs in the past month. We'll debate the substance and politics of the issue with two members of the Senate, but first this background.
MARGARET WARNER: The report on teen drug use stung the President just a week before the Democratic convention. White House Spokesman Mike McCurry said it should not be an issue in the campaign.
MICHAEL McCURRY, White House Spokesman: The less that we try to make partisan politics out of this, the more we will send a signal to kids that everyone is working together to address the problem. It's not a question of Republicans or Democrats being tougher on drugs.
It's a question of everyone coming together and to try to encourage young people not to use drugs. And that's where the focus should be, and that's where the focus has been as we've administered what we think is a very comprehensive anti-drug strategy.
MARGARET WARNER: But fresh from the Republican convention, Bob Dole immediately seized on the drug report as an issue for his campaign.
SEN. BOB DOLE, President Presidential Nominee: This is nothing short of a national tragedy. So I've said to myself, starting next January, I'm going to make the drug war priority number one once again.
MARGARET WARNER: Two days later, Dole was at it again.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Two days ago, the yearly national household survey on drugs--drug abuse came out, and it showed that drug abuse among young Americans has more than doubled in the last four years under President Clinton, a 105 percent increase in marijuana use. That is a national tragedy. And it's enough to cause every single American--ask the people in the White House, where have you been the last four years, Mr. President? Where have you been the last four years, Mr. President?
MARGARET WARNER: Last week in Chicago, the President responded by weaving an anti-drug message into his nomination acceptance speech.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And I can tell you something has happened to some of our young people. They simply don't think these drugs are dangerous anymore, or they think the risk is acceptable. So beginning with our parents and without regard to our party, we have to renew our energy to teach this generation of young people the hard, cold truth. Drugs are deadly. Drugs are wrong. Drugs can cost you your life.
Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the four-star general who led our fight against drugs in Latin America, now leads our crusade against drugs at home, stopping more drugs at our borders, tracking down all those who sell them, and most important of all, pursuing a national anti-drug strategy whose primary aim is to turn our children away from drugs. I call on Congress to give him every cent of funding we have requested for this strategy and to do it now.
SPOKESMAN: Please welcome the Republican candidate--
MARGARET WARNER: Bob Dole continues to hammer away at the President. Last week, he called for using the National Guard and the U.S. military to stop the flow of drugs into the country. He returned to his anti-drug message in a speech yesterday to the American Legion Convention in Salt Lake City.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Let me tell you this. On day one of the Dole administration, we will begin a real war on drugs, and we will fight to win. You've got to fight to win the war on drugs, or you're going to lose. We must start with a plan to use our military power, particularly our technological capabilities to fight this battle, to involve our intelligence agencies, including the CIA, in this effort, and, if necessary, to use the National Guard to stamp out drugs on our border before they enter this country. And we're going to get it done.
MARGARET WARNER: Today the Republicans in Congress weighed in as well. The Senate Judiciary Committee called White House Drug Czar General Barry McCaffrey and HHS Secretary Donna Shalalah to Capitol Hill to explain the dramatic surge in teenage drug use.
DONNA SHALALA, Secretary, HHS: And they mixed messages. They get mixed messages from police departments that don't enforce marijuana laws. They get mixed messages from parents who are relieved because they think marijuana is a little safer than maybe some of the other drugs, and they're relieved when they find out their kid's using marijuana, instead of perhaps cocaine, or heroine. They get a mixed message from those who believe in the legalization of marijuana or from those that are now fighting in a place like California about whether marijuana should be used for medical purposes.
That's a signal that maybe it's safe if it could be used for medical purposes. So the message has to be clear and consistent from each one of us that drugs are illegal, that they're dangerous, and they're wrong, whether it's marijuana or heroine or cocaine or any of these new drugs that we've been talking about.
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY, (R) Alabama: Mr. Chairman, I remain highly skeptical of this administration's new found commitment to the war against drugs, and although I respect General McCaffrey tremendously, and I have the utmost confidence in his abilities, as I've said, his work is a critical link between crime and drugs because crime--the link there is strong and growing, particularly among our youth, as we've heard today.
MARGARET WARNER: Joining us now are two members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that held today's hearing: the Republican Chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, and the ranking Democrat, Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware. Welcome, gentlemen.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH, (R) Utah: Happy to be with you.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Hatch, why do you think this issue has suddenly become one in the presidential campaign?
SEN. HATCH: Well, actually I've accused the President of being AWOL or absent without leadership on drugs because since 1992, marijuana usage has jumped 141 percent, cocaine usage has jumped 166 percent. Methamphetamine has jumped 310 percent--320 percent actually. LSD is at the highest level ever in the history of our country. It's jumped a dramatic percentage of 183 percent. And it--it--the use of drugs among our teenagers 17 through--or 12 through 17 has skyrocketed, while at the same time, the President has cut back the drug czar's office.
He's now starting to beef it up. He cut it back from 147 positions to 25, making it almost ineffectual. The interdiction effort was cut back by 53 percent. So we're flooded with drugs now. The price of cocaine and heroine has plummeted--has gone up, excuse me--while the purity has gone--the purity has gone up while the price has come down, and the price of heroine from about $1650 per gram down to about $966, in the case of cocaine down dramatically as well. And frankly, this administration has not been using the bully pulpit, nor have they had a quantifiable drug control strategy that really will work, and up until now and up until the President's speech at the convention not much was being done.
A couple of things I should say is that Barry McCaffrey is a good choice. I think Louie Freeh at the FBI is a good choice. I think that Tom Consantine is a great choice at, at the Drug Enforcement Administration. But they haven't been given the backing by this administration that they need.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Biden.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D) Delaware: Well, it's kind of interesting how everyone has found the Lord. I'm not referring to my colleague here, but back over a year and a half ago, I wrote a report--and I'll quote from the report--saying that our nation has already seen the first signs of a trend that chills every parent, the rise in drug abuse among children laid out in the report, the detail of what was happening. The truth of the matter is the last two years of the Bush administration and the first two years of the Clinton administration, there was a preoccupation with other things.
And Sen. Hatch and I, because I guess it's our responsibilities, have been banging the drum about this problem, but the fact of the matter is we have trouble walking and chewing gum as a nation, it seems to me, in terms of policy. All of a sudden, the focus became in the last two years of the Bush administration, necessarily, foreign policy. Then the first two years of the Clinton administration, balanced budget amendments. I mean, Bob Dole is making these speeches now. God bless him, he's a great man. He was a great Senator, and he would be a decent President if he got elected President.
He voted against the establishment of the drug czar which I took eight years to get passed. He voted to cut the interdiction budget. He voted to cut the, the very budgets that he's now criticizing Clinton for not having pushed. And now he's going to make it priority number one.
Well, I'm delighted he's making it priority number one. I'm delighted the President is now talking about it. We should get on with the business, though, of dealing with the problem. And the problem is that unless we focus more on the use of drugs among children through the moral disapprobation of society at all levels from the President of the United States to the candidates, to the people who were in the entertainment industry, we're not going to make much headway. And let me say one last thing: I think it's good.
I disagree with Mr. McCurry, the President's press secretary, and I agree with Barry McCaffrey. I think it's great this is a political issue. We've been trying to get this up on the screen in this nation for the last four years. Republicans haven't paid attention. Democrats haven't paid attention. Republicans in the Congress have cut the President's budget when he found this new effort, and so I think we should be done with it, start talking about what specifically we're going to do to deal with the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Hatch, does he have a point that really both the President and you Republicans in Congress and Sen. Dole all bear equal responsibility here?
SEN. BIDEN: I would say he's an exception. I'm not being solicitous.
MARGARET WARNER: Yes.
SEN. BIDEN: I mean, he really has been. We've been talking about this.
SEN. HATCH: Well, Joe and I fought together for this. Now I do have to take some issue with Joe. Frankly, the Justice Department budget has doubled. Actually it's gone up 400 percent since Reagan became President, but it's doubled since 1990. All of the other issues--areas have gone up except one area, the SAMSA area, which has admittedly gone up, but let me just make this last point. The fact of the matter is that--is that the only cuts in the budget occurred in the fiscal 1995 budget when the Democrats were in control of Congress.
We've tried to get the money there. We need to do a better job. Joe Biden and I are committed to doing so. We'd like to get this where it's politically in the minds of everybody so everybody in this country becomes concerned, and I think we're--I think we're getting there with regard to the President, at least I hope so.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. But let me ask you both if you were an average American sitting home and watching this and you hear all of this partisan back and forth about who's to blame, what are you really to think? I mean, Sen. Hatch, are you saying that if Bob Dole had been President the last four years, he wouldn't have seen this increase in drug use among teens?
SEN. HATCH: I don't think there's any question about it. Drug increase for twelve to seventeen year olds had gone down dramatically under both the Reagan and Bush administrations. Now, it started to leap up in 1992 at the end of the--
SEN. BIDEN: ‘90.
SEN. HATCH: --1992, at the end of the Bush administration, but then once Clinton took over, it's leapt up dramatically.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
SEN. HATCH: And I think part of the reason is because there hasn't been the example. They put in a surgeon general who was talking about legalization, they cut these offices, they cut these positions at DEA, FBI, Customs, INS, and so forth, and they didn't give the proper attention to this that should have been given. Now they are, and I hope that we can do better.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Biden, do you concede that this administration hasn't given it the kind of attention it should have?
SEN. BIDEN: I concede it did not initially give the intention--attention it should have. I do not concede that it has not asked for the proper amount of money and the right strategy. I agree with you, or at least your implication of your question. If I were home listening to this, I'd say, what the hell are those guys talking about? I don't care whether it's Bush or Dole or Reagan.
I don't care who is the person responsible. I know we have a problem. And so I think we should continue to debate not who's to blame, because this started in 1990. We can go through this blame game thing. All I know is my 15 year old daughter is more in jeopardy today than my 15 year old son was, and he's now 26 years old. I know that now, and so we should say what are we going to do about it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you both to address one proposal that Bob Dole has made, and Sen. Hatch, I'll start with you. He has suggested expanding the military, the role of the military and the National Guard in drug interdiction. Explain, if you could, first of all, briefly, to what degree is the military involved, and do you support expanding it in some way?
SEN. HATCH: Well, the military and the National Guard had been involved in all the administrations, Reagan, Bush, and the Clinton administration. But Dole is talking about a dramatic expansion, of using the National Guard at the border, of doing a better job in interdiction.Under this administration, they cut back in interdiction 53 percent, they cut back in shipping days.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
SEN. HATCH: They cut back in, in flights. They've cut back in the use of--
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But if you could focus on the proposal. Do you think it's a good idea?
SEN. HATCH: Yeah. I think it's a great idea. We've got to do something. Our kids are awash in drugs. Our society--you know, one of the pathetic things is, is that one out of three high school seniors today is using marijuana. In a Michigan study, 48 percent of them--high school seniors use marijuana.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get Sen. Biden on this proposal.
SEN. HATCH: We've got to do something about this.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Sen. Biden, the military has historically been reluctant to get too deeply involved in--
SEN. BIDEN: I'm not overly proud of what--
MARGARET WARNER: --drug enforcement.
SEN. BIDEN: --I'm about to say to you but I'm the guy that suggested in the first national drug strategy that we get the military involved. The military is involved with the point of $814 million they spend on drug-related activities. One of the reasons why we have such a problem with Mexico now is when Barry McCaffrey was running this operation as a four-star general for the military, they basically shut down trafficking in the Caribbean, and it all re-routed itself through Mexico. That's one of our problems.
So it's a porous operation. And that is where you succeed here, it's going to go somewhere else. The use of the military is very important. But under the crime bill that we passed that the President signed into law, we are increasing from 3,700 to 10,000 in number of border guards that we're going to have on the border. The use of--I don't know whether--I'm not being facetious. I assume that Sen. Dole remembers that the National Guard's already involved in drug interdiction now, and so what I want to know from him is (a) why has he supported cutting some of the drug strategy monies that are being asked for by the President, and where--how much more money is he asking for in the military.
The military, in fact, can do a very important job by using their radars, by using their technology, by using their ability to identify for purposes of interdiction drug trafficking patterns. And the National Guard can be of aid like they are now. We're right now spending $180 million in the National Guard related drug activities. They're building roads for the INS. They're--I mean, for their border guards and so forth. So, I mean, it sounds to me a little bit like calling for something that's already being done and the assumption that the public doesn't know it's already being done, without specifying what more they're going to do. I think there's more the military can do. I think there's more the National Guard can do. I don't know what Bob Dole is talking about, though maybe my colleague does.
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. We're going to have to leave it there. We'll ask Bob Dole next time we have a chance. Thank you both for being with us.