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Drug Crusade Waning, Nancy Reagan Says : Congress: Former First Lady appears at hearing. She criticizes Clinton Administration policies that she says emphasize treatment, not prevention.

March 10, 1995|JANET HOOK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, receiving the royal treatment from a Republican Congress that reveres her husband, complained Thursday that the anti-drug crusade she had championed appears to be fizzling because of a lack of national leadership.

Testifying before Congress for the first time, Mrs. Reagan joined Republicans in criticizing Clinton Administration policies that she said put too much emphasis on treating drug abuse and not enough on the preventive efforts she championed with her "Just Say No" campaign.

"How could we have forgotten so quickly?" Mrs. Reagan asked, citing evidence of rising drug use among youths. "Why is it we no longer hear the drumbeat of condemnation against drugs coming from our leaders and our culture?'

It was an appearance with a touch of poignancy.

Former President Ronald Reagan disclosed in November that he has Alzheimer's disease. Mrs. Reagan said that she made the trip to Washington "only after much soul-searching," an apparent allusion to concerns about leaving her husband.

"As you can imagine, I have very pressing concerns keeping me busy in California right now, and I do not like to be away for long," she told members of a House subcommittee of the Government Reform and Oversight Committee. "So I have not come here lightly."

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She was greeted warmly by congressional Republicans, who have often seemed nostalgic for the Reagan years as they have pushed an agenda packed with the unfinished business of the Reagan revolution.

In Reagan's honor, House Republicans scheduled the February vote on the presidential line-item veto to coincide with the former President's birthday. GOP leaders cut a birthday cake to mark the occasion, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) called Mrs. Reagan after the House passed the line-item veto--an idea that her husband had championed.

Gingrich welcomed Mrs. Reagan to the Capitol on Thursday, escorted her to the hearing, and later joined her for lunch with Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and two other top GOP leaders.

At the hearing, Mrs. Reagan spoke only briefly and took no questions from subcommittee members. She did not cite President Clinton by name, but said that she is worried that "the psychological momentum we had against drug use has been lost."

"It all requires leadership here in Washington," she said. "Where has it gone?"

Rep. Bill Zeliff (R-N.H.), chairman of the subcommittee, cited surveys showing that in 1994, twice as many eighth-graders were using marijuana than three years earlier, and that daily marijuana use by high school seniors increased 50% from 1993 to 1994. He criticized the Administration for budget proposals that he said shifted emphasis from drug interdiction and prevention to treatment programs.

The panel's ranking Democrat, Rep. Karen L. Thurman of Florida, defended the Administration, saying that Clinton has proposed a record $14.6-billion budget to combat drugs and elevated the head of his drug-control office to his Cabinet.

Thurman maintained that the Republican-controlled Congress is undercutting federal anti-drug efforts in a bill, scheduled to go before the House next week, that would eliminate funds for a school drug-prevention program begun during the Reagan years.

"It is here in this House where we are failing in our leadership on this important issue," Thurman said.

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