WASHINGTON–Representatives of the Armenian American Democratic Leadership Council raised a number of questions about education and foreign aid at the White House yesterday during a briefing on the President’s newly unveiled fiscal year 2000 budget.
Taking part in the briefing were senior Office of Management and Budget staff including Deputy Director Sylvia Matthews; Associate Director for Education Barbara Chow–and; Associate Director for National Security Rodney Bent. They discussed various aspects of the budget–which the President has said is marked by "fiscal responsibility–smart investmen’s–[and] more trade." Among the Armenian Americans in the briefing was Sona Balanian–who–in addition to her work with AADLC–is a leading member of the George Washington University Young Democrats.
Matthews explained that the President’s "Save Social Security First" plan would guarantee funding for social security by using 62 percent of budget surpluses for the next 15 years. The Administration also plans to use the rest of the surplus to strengthen Medicare and initiate Universal Savings Accounts–to encourage families to build wealth for retirement needs.
The FY 2000 balanced budget proposal also provides significant increases for education–including $600 million to enhance community after-school and summer programs; $1.4 billion to help schools recruit–hire and train 100,000 new teachers by 2005; over $200 million promoting English as second language (ESL) and adult literacy–and; $25 billion in bonds for school reconstruction and modernization.
The proposed $21.3 billion International Affairs budget fell short of Armenian American expectations–however– calling for a 10 percent reduction in U.S. aid to Armenia and a 40 percent increase in aid to Azerbaijan. Aid to Azerbaijan will be delivered through non-governmental groups–as specified by Section 907 of the Freedom Support Act.
"We look forward to supporting President Clinton’s policies on education–health care and social security–all important initiatives geared toward helping Armenian American families grow stronger and prosper," said AADLC spokeswoman Lucy Keshishian. "At the same time–we are disappointed with the proposed assistance package for Armenia and plan to work closely with the Administration and Congressional Democrats to address this matter."
Also at the invitation of the White House–an AADLC delegation attended a January 19 preview of the key domestic and international issues which were addressed later that day in President Bill Clinton’s State of the Union address.
Among the senior Administration officials taking part in the talks were Ann Lewis–the White House’s Director of Communications; Maria Echaveste–the President’s Deputy Chief of Staff; Robert Johnson–who serves as Deputy Director of the Office of Public Liaison and; Chris Jennings–the President’s advisor on health care issues.
"In our discussions with the President’s senior advisors–on the eve of his State of Union speech–we shared our community’s concerns across a range of domestic and foreign policy areas," said AADLC Executive Director Alex Sardar.
During the briefing–Communications Director Ann Lewis said that the President’s speech would focus on "doing the people’s business," and then previewed the President’s address. Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste outlined the President’s ambitious domestic agenda for the next two years.
Joining AADLC members were representatives from several other ethnic organizations.