The White House is weighing creation of a study commission on affirmative action to help neutralize the politically charged issue and to enable defenders to delay looming Republican attempts to roll back the programs, chief of staff Leon E. Panetta said Wednesday.
In the strongest signal to date of White House interest in the idea, Panetta said a non-partisan group with widely respected members could “hopefully diffuse the politics of the issue.” And the commission’s existence could allow congressional advocates to argue, “‘Let’s not do this (reforms) haphazardly. … Let’s allow the commission to do it on a more comprehensive basis,”’ Panetta said.
His comments to a group of reporters came as President Clinton and administration aides are working intensely to complete a review of federal programs aiding women and members of minorities in education, employment and contracting. Panetta said that while the president has reached no conclusions, the commission idea “is clearly in play.”
The proposal has found its most ardent advocates among House Democrats, who pressed Clinton in a March meeting to create it. Several House Democrats and other outsiders said they understand the White House is leaning toward the suggestion, although other knowledgeable sources stressed that no decision has been reached.
The proposal also has the backing of Clinton’s allies in the civil rights community. “We would welcome any initiative that would contribute to a national discussion of civil rights,” said Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, arguing that most Americans do not appreciate the 30-year-old effort’s benefits.