President Clinton is planning to make a report to the nation -- possibly a television address -- in which he will support most of the government's equal opportunity programs for individuals, his chief of staff said Thursday.
Clinton's review of federal affirmative action programs will be completed in a few days, Leon A. Panetta said in an interview with reporters from the nation's industrial region.
The president's "expedited review," as Panetta described it, is intended to head off a broad attack by House Economic Committee Chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa. and others in the GOP-controlled Congress.
Goodling has said he wants to amend parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and repeal executive orders issued by the presidents of the last three decades. House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., also plans to hold hearings on affirmative action.
"If this becomes a matter of politics that tries to drive a wedge into society," Panetta said, "then I think that's the worst of all worlds." Panetta then conceded it already is a matter of politics, with California Gov. Pete Wilson planning to harness antagonism toward affirmative action in his campaign for president.
"If you drive these issues on the basis of where the polls are, frankly that's the last thing that leadership ought to be about.
"This issue started off with Brown vs. Board of Education (the landmark 1957 school desegregation case) in which most of this country was opposed to that position.
"I think he feels you can rise above this; and ask what kind of country do you want for our kids in the future.
"This president has a history on this issue," Panetta said in his briefing with the reporters. "What he's done on affirmative action as governor and as president (is well known.) He's not going to turn the clock back on that . . . "
At the same time, Panetta said, Clinton may raise some questions about special government procurement quotas for minority contractors and tax breaks for businesses that sell broadcast properties to minority group owners.
Viacom Inc. planned to defer up to $1.6 billion in taxes because it was selling its cable systems to what the tax laws would define as a minority owner.
The House on Thursday abolished this special tax break. The repealer was in an amendment giving tax breaks to self-employed persons on their health insurance premiums.
Meanwhile, two polls showed the American public is ambivalent on affirmative action programs.
A Los Angeles Times survey found that 52 percent favored affirmative action preference for minorities while 61 percent were in favor of affirmative action programs for women.
But when asked if qualified minorities should receive preference over equally qualified whites, 72 percent were against the idea, and 70 percent thought qualified women should not be given preference over equally qualified men.
A Newsweek poll of 752 adults released this week found just 27 percent of women polled believe they have been helped by preference programs and 53 percent said they thought their status in the workplace would be remain the same if affirmative action was abolished.