Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview

Discussant: Alfred A. DelliBovi

Let me begin at the outset by saying I appreciate the opportunity to be here. And my thesis, if you will, is that President Bush was indeed very effective when it came to housing policy, and I think I’ll be able to demonstrate that even in the brief time that we have available. I know academics tend to work with papers, lay out premises, and expect those to be the way policy is advanced. In government, it works a little bit differently, and I think the true measure of how effective a policy is is whether it endures and whether it produces results. Though politicians tend to draft papers during campaigns, once they get elected what they really do is appoint people, and then it’s up to the process and the people that they appoint to implement the policies of their administration.

When President Bush selected Jack Kemp to be his housing secretary he laid out an agenda for him—an agenda which was translated into six priorities, or policy goals, which in fact became the guiding point of the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Bush administration under Secretary Kemp. It was interesting: One of my first jobs was to help Secretary Kemp in interviewing all the assistant secretaries and deputy secretaries and the like, and we made a conscious effort to go through that agenda—those six priorities—and we developed a program. It’s unfortunate: Many people think about HUD in the Bush years and they think of the scandals we inherited, and we did have a clean-up agenda. But there was also a very positive agenda. It led to the enactment, in 1990, of the first bipartisan Housing Authorization Bill, which the president signed in November of 1990–the end of November—and that bill gave the administration, gave us, the power we sought to lay out this agenda, to produce the agenda.

It’s interesting: In some of the comments here, reference was made to an international agenda or a “war on drugs.” Well, one thing I learned in Washington—and I was there as well during the Reagan administration—is that the president is often able to get support from the Congress on international areas but not get that kind of support in domestic areas. Unfortunately, the Bush administration was stuck with a Democratic Congress for its entire term. Both Congresses that we had to live with were Democrats, and they really didn’t cut us any slack. You notice that the administration didn’t get—the president couldn’t sign the housing agenda until the end of November in 1990, so two years were gone. They gave us no appropriations for the programs that they gave us authorization for, or very few appropriations. And so we were kind of cruising on empty. We had this magnificent vehicle that we had gotten authorized and we had no fuel—or very little fuel—to use it.

Nevertheless, though, those priorities that we set out—enforcing fair housing for all, which is clearly part of the civil rights paper that was addressed, I think we acquitted ourselves well. The program to make housing drug-free, one of the ini

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