Following a discussion of the balance between program cuts and a possible tax increase in the next budget cycle, President Johnson mentioned a protest that a group of poverty activists from Syracuse, New York had staged at his Texas ranch. Mayor Daley, who a few moments before had urged the president to focus on job creation as the core of the anti-poverty effort, vigorously objected to the idea that the poor should control the community action programs that the War on Poverty had established in many communities. The inclusion in the Economic Opportunity Act of a provision that community action should encourage the "maximum feasible participation" of the poor had produced clashes between activists and many city governments over the purpose and nature of the programs. This conversation excerpt presents a strong statement of one side of this controversy -- a perspective shared by many mayors around the U.S.
In this conversation, President Johnson offered assured Virginia Congressman Porter Hardy (D) that the governors’ veto amendment to the Economic Opportunity Act would prevent the community action program from circumventing local governmental authority. For supporters of the community action principle, such circumvention had been the point of the program.
President Johnson and Representative Phil Landrum of Georgia (the floor leader for the Economic Opportunity Act in the House of Representatives) discuss the attempt by a group of Catholic congressmen to block the Economic Opportunity Act in the House Education and Labor Committee. The Act would remain blocked unless sections of Title II were re-written to include funding for remedial education programs in Catholic schools. Some congressmen also hoped to use the issue as a bargaining chip to prevent the closure of naval bases in their districts. Johnson indicates his willingness to cut the community action provisions of the legislation (Title II) rather than give in to the congressmen's demands - even though this component of the bill constituted one of its most important elements. Nonetheless, the President clearly indicated in this conversation that his primary interest in the antipoverty legislation lay in the Job Corps camps and training centers of Title I, rather than in the Community Action provisions of Title II. The latter programs, however, would soon define the Economic Opportunity Act in the public mind.
In late 1966, Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) Director (and Kennedy brother-in-law) Sargent Shriver contemplated resigning because of differences with the President over funding levels for the War on Poverty and frustration over perceptions that his effectiveness had diminished. In this conversation with Special Assistant Bill Moyers (who had recently submitted his own resignation), President Johnson expounded on the implications of a Shriver resignation, as well as on his views of the budgetary constraints on the War on Poverty, the consequences of street protests that cast the Vietnam War and the anti-poverty effort as mutually-exclusive budget items, and his difficulties with Robert F. Kennedy and other liberal Senators who supported an expanded poverty program. Near the close of this excerpt, Johnson commented on the lack of political pragmatism and reliability that he perceived among much of Shriver's staff at OEO, particularly in the still-controversial Community Action Program (CAP).
In this conversation excerpt, President Johnson and Georgia Senator Richard Russell (R) express their shared dislike and distrust of the War on Poverty's Community Action Program.