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Veto of the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971

December 09, 1971

To the Senate of the United States:

I return herewith without my approval S. 2007, the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971.

This legislation undertakes three major Federal commitments in the field of social welfare: extension of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, creation of a National Legal Services Corporation, and establishment of a comprehensive child development program.

As currently drafted, all three proposals contain provisions that would ill serve the stated objectives of this legislation, provisions altogether unacceptable to this administration.

Upon taking office, this administration sought to redesign, to redirect--indeed, to rehabilitate--the Office of Economic Opportunity, which had lost much public acceptance in the five years since its inception. Our objective has been to provide this agency with a new purpose and a new role. Our goal has been to make the Office of Economic Opportunity the primary research and development arm of the Nation's and the Government's ongoing effort to diminish and eventually eliminate poverty in the United States. Despite occasional setbacks, considerable progress has been made.

That progress is now jeopardized. Two ill-advised and restrictive amendments contained in this bill would vitiate our efforts and turn back the clock.

In the 1964 act the President was granted authority to delegate--by executive action--programs of OEO to other departments of the Government. That flexibility has enabled this administration to shift tried and proven programs out of OEO to other agencies--so that OEO can concentrate its resources and talents on generating and testing new ideas, new programs and new policies to assist the remaining poor in the United States. This flexibility, however, would be taken away under amendments added by the Congress--and the President would be prohibited from spinning off successful and continuing programs to the service agencies.

If this congressional action were allowed to stand, OEO would become an operational agency, diluting its special role as incubator and tester of ideas and pioneer for social programs.

Secondly, the Congress has written into the OEO legislation an itemized list of mandatory funding levels for 15 categorical programs. This specific earmarking of funds for specific programs at OEO is genuinely reactionary legislation; it locks OEO executives into supporting and continuing programs that may prove less productive; it inhibits the very experimentation and innovation which I believe should be the primary mission of OEO; it denies administrative discretion to the executives of OEO and, most important, it restricts and limits the amount of funds available for hopeful new initiatives.

Should these amendments become law, OEO's days as the principal pioneer of the Nation's effort to combat poverty would be numbered; OEO would rapidly degenerate into just another ossified bureaucracy. Even if OEO legislation were to come separately to my desk, containing these provisions, I would be compelled to veto it as inconsistent with the best interest of America's poor. I urge the Congress to remove these restrictions.

The provision creating the National Legal Services Corporation differs crucially from the proposal originally put forth by this administration. Our intention was to create a legal services corporation, to aid the poor, that was independent and free of politics, yet contained built-in safeguards to assure its operation in a responsible manner. In the Congress, however, the legislation has been substantially altered, so that the quintessential principle of accountability has been lost.

In re-writing our original proposal, the door has been left wide open to those abuses which have cost one anti-poverty program after another its public enthusiasm and public support.

The restrictions which the Congress has imposed upon the President in the selection of directors of the Corporation is also an affront to the principle of accountability to the American people as a whole. Under congressional revisions, the President has full discretion to appoint only six of the seventeen directors; the balance must be chosen from lists provided by various professional, client and special interest groups, some of which are actual or potential grantees of the Corporation.

The sole interest to which each board member must be beholden is the public interest. The sole constituency he must represent is the whole American people. The best way to insure this in this case is the constitutional way--to provide a free hand in the appointive process to the one official accountable to, and answerable to, the whole American people--the President of the United States, and to trust to the Senate of the United States to exercise its advise and consent function.

To compound the problem of accountability, Congress has further proposed that during the crucial 90 day period--when the Corporation is set into motion--its governance is to rest exclusively in the hands of designees of five private interest groups. That proposal should be dropped.

It would be better to have no legal services corporation than one so irresponsibly structured. I urge the Congress to rewrite this bill, to create a new National Legal Services Corporation, truly independent of political influences, containing strict safeguards against the kind of abuses certain to erode public support--a legal services corporation which places the needs of low-income clients first, before the political concerns of either legal service attorneys or elected officials.

But the most deeply flawed provision of this legislation is Title V, "Child Development Programs."

Adopted as an amendment to the OEO legislation, this program points far beyond what this administration envisioned when it made a "national commitment to providing all American children an opportunity for a healthful and stimulating development during the first five years of life."

Though Title V's stated purpose, "to provide every child with a full and fair opportunity to reach his full potential" is certainly laudable, the intent of Title V is overshadowed by the fiscal irresponsibility, administrative unworkability, and family-weakening implications of the system it envisions. We owe our children something more than good intentions.

We cannot and will not ignore the challenge to do more for America's children in their all-important early years. But our response to this challenge must be a measured, evolutionary, painstakingly considered one, consciously designed to cement the family in its rightful position as the keystone of our civilization.

Further, in returning this legislation to the Congress, I do not for a moment overlook the fact that there are some needs to be served, and served now.

One of these needs is for day care, to enable mothers, particularly those at the lowest income levels, to take full-time jobs. Federal support for State and local day care services under Head Start and the Social Security Act already totals more than half a billion dollars a year--but this is not enough. That is why our H.R. 1 welfare reform proposals, which have been before the Congress for the past 26 months, include a request for $750 million annually in day care funds for welfare recipients and the working poor, including $50 million for construction of facilities. And that is why we support the increased tax deductions written into the Revenue Act of 1971, which will provide a significant Federal subsidy for day care in families where both parents are employed, potentially benefitting 97 percent of all such families in the country and offering parents free choice of the child care arrangements they deem best for their own families. This approach reflects my conviction that the Federal Government's role wherever possible should be one of assisting parents to purchase needed day care services in the private, open market, with Federal involvement in direct provision of such services kept to an absolute minimum.

A second imperative is the protection of children from actual suffering and deprivation. The administration is already moving on this front, under a policy of concentrating assistance where it will help the most--a policy certain to suffer if Title V's scatteration of attention and resources were to become law. Action we are presently taking includes:

--Expansion of nutritional assistance to poor children by nearly tripling participation in the food stamp program (from 3.6 million people to 10.6 million people) and doubling support for child nutrition programs (from less than $600 million to more than $1.2 billion) since 1969.

--Improvement of medical care for poor children through the introduction of more vigorous screening and treatment procedures under Medicaid.

--More effective targeting of maternal and child health services on low income mothers who need them most.

Furthermore, Head Start continues to perform both valuable day care and early education services, and an important experimentation and demonstration function which identifies and paves the way for wider application of successful techniques. And the Office of Child Development which I established within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1969 provides overall leadership for these and many other activities focused on the first five years of life.

But, unlike these tried and tested programs for our children, the child development envisioned in this legislation would be truly a long leap into the dark for the United States Government and the American people. I must share the view of those of its supporters who proclaim this to be the most radical piece of legislation to emerge from the Ninety-second Congress.

I also hold the conviction that such far-reaching national legislation should not, must not, be enacted in the absence of a great national debate upon its merit, and broad public acceptance of its principles.

Few contend that such a national debate has taken place. No one, I believe, would contend that the American people, as a whole, have determined that this is the direction in which they desire their government and nation to go.

Specifically, these are my present objections to the proposed child development program:

First, neither the immediate need nor the desirability of a national child development program of this character has been demonstrated.

Secondly, day care centers to provide for the children of the poor so that their parents can leave the welfare rolls to go on the payrolls of the nation, are already provided for in H.R. 1, my workfare legislation. To some degree, child development centers are a duplication of these efforts. Further, these child development programs would be redundant in that they duplicate many existing and growing Federal, State and local efforts to provide social, medical, nutritional and education services to the very young.

Third, given the limited resources of the Federal budget, and the growing demands upon the Federal taxpayer, the expenditure of two billions of dollars in a program whose effectiveness has yet to be demonstrated cannot be justified. And the prospect of costs which could eventually reach $20 billion annually is even more unreasonable.

Fourth, for more than two years this administration has been working for the enactment of welfare reform, one of the objectives of which is to bring the family together. This child development program appears to move in precisely the opposite direction. There is a respectable school of opinion that this legislation would lead toward altering the family relationship. Before even a tentative step is made in this direction by their government, the American people should be fully consulted.

Fifth, all other factors being equal, good public policy requires that we enhance rather than diminish both parental authority and parental involvement with children--particularly in those decisive early years when social attitudes and a conscience are formed, and religious and moral principles are first inculcated.

Sixth, there has yet to be an adequate answer provided to the crucial question of who the qualified people are, and where they would come from, to staff the child development centers.

Seventh, as currently written, the legislation would create, ex nihilo, a new army of bureaucrats. By making any community over 5,000 population eligible as a direct grantee for HEW child development funds, the proposal actively invites the participation of as many as 7,000 prime sponsors--each with its own plan, its own council, its own version of all the other machinery that has made Head Start, with fewer than 1,200 grantees, so difficult a management problem.

Eighth, the States would be relegated to an insignificant role. This new program would not only arrogate the initiative for preschool education to the Federal Government from the States--only 8 of which even require kindergarten at present. It would also retain an excessive measure of operational control for such education at the Federal level, in the form of the standards and program guidelines to be set down by the Secretary of HEW.

Ninth, for the Federal Government to plunge headlong financially into supporting child development would commit the vast moral authority of the National Government to the side of communal approaches to child rearing over against the family-centered approach.

This President, this Government, is unwilling to take that step. With this message, I urge the Congress to act now to pass the OEO extension and to create the legal services corporation along the lines proposed in our original legislation.


The White House

December 9, 1971

Note: The veto message, dated December 9, 1971, was transmitted to the Senate on December 10.

On December 9, the White House released the transcript of a news briefing on the veto message by Frank C. Carlucci III, Associate Director, Office of Management and Budget, and Stephen Kurzman, Assistant Secretary for Legislation, Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
The Senate sustained the President's veto on December 10.

APP Note: In the Public Papers of the Presidents series, this document is dated December 10, 1971, the date it was released. The American Presidency Project dates this document as December 9, 1971, the date the bill was vetoed.

Richard Nixon, Veto of the Economic Opportunity Amendments of 1971 Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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