With liberals already threatening a filibuster, Democratic and Republican Senate leaders Monday introduced a sweeping election-year anti-drug bill that calls for the death penalty in drug-related murder cases.
The $2.6-billion measure is the product of nearly five months of negotiations between leaders of the two parties, but it comes to the Senate floor at a time when only a few days are left for it to be considered by the 100th Congress. Congressional leaders are hoping to adjourn by next week.
In addition, liberals in both parties have threatened to block adoption of many of the most controversial ideas, including the death penalty and limits on rights of criminal defendants in drug cases.
In an open letter to all 100 members of the Senate, a bipartisan group of 14 liberals declared last week that they would do whatever is necessary to keep the provisions that they oppose from becoming part of the final bill.
Effort to Thwart Opponents
Sponsors of the bipartisan measure said they made a last-minute decision to incorporate the death penalty provision into the draft bill--instead of offering it on the Senate floor--in an effort to thwart liberal opponents of capital punishment.
It will be more difficult for liberals to filibuster a provision already in the bill than to filibuster an amendment. “Having it in the bill greatly reduces the chances of a filibuster on it,” noted Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), one of the primary authors of the draft legislation.
An amendment to strip the death penalty from the bill is certain to be one of the many changes that members of the Senate--conservatives as well as liberals--will try to make on the Senate floor. So many amendments to the bill are being prepared that sponsors of the legislation acknowledged that it was doomed unless senators agree to limit the number of amendments to be offered.
Sen. Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) said Republicans already have volunteered to limit the number of GOP amendments to six, but Democrats acknowledged that members of their party are unwilling to accept the same limit.
Federal Benefits Targeted
Republicans are expected to offer many of the same amendments that the House adopted last year to curb casual drug use. These include proposals by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) to deny some federal benefits to convicted drug users and to prescribe stiff penalties for those who involve children in drugs.
Likewise, Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.) is expected to offer an amendment that would require states to administer random drug tests to first-time applicants for driver’s licenses. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) has said he will offer an amendment to limit the so-called exclusionary rule, which prohibits the use in court of evidence that is not obtained in accordance with a defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unlawful search and seizure.
Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) announced Monday that he intends to offer an amendment that would threaten to cut off federal aid within two years to any college that had not eliminated drugs from campus.
Not Enough Money
Sponsors of the legislation acknowledged that there is not enough money available to fund it. Although it would authorize $2.6 billion over two years, current estimates by the Office of Management and Budget suggest that less than $450 million will be available under current ceilings to be spent next year on the drug initiatives contained in the bill.
Moreover, $250 million of the expected revenue is expected to come from stepped-up enforcement of U.S. tax laws and forfeitures against drug dealers, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Lawton Chiles (D-Fla.) acknowledged that computing the possible increase in revenues from these steps is “a long way from being a certain science.”
To finance the bill, Rudman said he would propose an increased federal tax on cigarettes and alcohol--a proposal certain to be unpopular with senators from states with tobacco farms and distilleries. He said he would offer his proposal as an amendment to a tax bill that is expected to be considered soon by the Senate.
Wilson said the draft legislation would provide $5 million for the federal government to hire an additional 50 agents specifically dedicated to combatting the spreading influence of Los Angeles’ street gangs.