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Clinton Accuses NRA of Blocking Vote on Crime Bill : Legislation: He says gun lobby is rallying opposition to House procedural action. But most Republicans and 15 Black Caucus members oppose the measure.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Clinton, fighting to rescue an endangered crime bill, Friday accused the National Rifle Assn. of leading a campaign to block a vote on the $33-billion measure in the House.

“Out there in the country where people know that crime strikes people without regard to race or political party, everybody is for this crime bill,” Clinton said. “But here, the crime bill is stuck in a web spun by a powerful special interest.”

Although Clinton did not say so specifically, the gun lobby, which opposes the bill’s assault weapons ban, is only part of the problem he faces in getting the legislation past its last procedural hurdle in the House--a vote on how the bill will be debated.

In an unusual alliance, nearly all Republicans also appear ready to block the vote, along with 15 to 20 members of the Congressional Black Caucus--who have balked at the final version of the bill because it no longer includes a provision that would have allowed Death Row inmates to challenge their sentences by using statistical evidence to show racial bias in the system.

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Between the two sides, Clinton and his supporters have been hard-pressed to find the votes they need to get the bill through the last procedural vote in the House. The Senate is not scheduled to consider the bill until after the House votes.

The President’s remarks, which came at a White House ceremony marking the first anniversary of congressional approval of his budget deficit-reduction act, were part of a White House strategy designed to generate public pressure on lawmakers by portraying the bill’s opponents as unfairly using procedural tricks to prevent passage of the bill.

If people oppose the crime bill on the merits, “let them vote against it. That’s fine,” Clinton added. “But do not let us pull another Washington, D.C., game here and let this crime bill go down on some procedural hide and seek. If we’re going to have a shootout, let’s do it in high noon, broad daylight where everybody knows what the deal is.”

Tanya Metaksa, chief lobbyist for the NRA, defended the organization’s efforts to block a vote, saying: “It is part of the way Congress works.”

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The President made his remarks after Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) and his lieutenants indefinitely postponed a preliminary vote on the House rule that sets the parameters for debate on the bill and allows a final vote to be taken. The bill cannot move forward until the procedural matter is settled.

Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), a chief deputy whip for the Democrats, said that the leadership is still 20 votes short of the 218 votes needed to approve the rule.

Clinton and Atty. Gen. Janet Reno telephoned members of Congress, hoping to swing undecided or doubtful lawmakers to the Administration’s side as Foley put off a vote on the rule until sometime next week.

Part of the White House strategy is to persuade Republicans to vote in favor of the rule that would allow the House to take up the crime bill. Especially targeted are those Republicans who advocate gun control measures like the weapons ban. Generally, Republican leaders have denounced the bill as too costly and not tough enough on violent criminals.

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Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said that he is one of “about 10" GOP lawmakers who intended to vote for the rule because the crime bill would help crime-prone urban areas.

Shays said that defeat of the procedural step would lead to a weakening or removal of the assault weapons ban and not to an increase in spending for prisons or law enforcement that most Republicans favor.

Aides to GOP leaders said, however, that only a handful of the 178 House Republicans would vote to move the crime bill to the floor on grounds that it would waste billions of dollars on “social welfare programs” and would allocate too little money for prisons.

The vote on the rule may pose a special problem for Rep. Mike Huffington (R-Santa Barbara), who is running for the Senate this year against Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), widely credited for moving the assault weapons ban through the Senate.

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If Huffington votes against consideration of the bill, he could be accused of siding with the NRA against a popular provision of the legislation. If he votes for the rule, however, he could incur the enmity of conservatives who oppose gun control legislation.

Noting in his remarks that he was joined by hundreds of police officers last week to celebrate the approval of the Senate-House compromise on a crime bill, the President said:

“Unbelievably, after eight days, nothing has happened. . . . The National Rifle Assn. is trying to block the vote on the rule because they are against the assault weapons ban, because they know that a majority of the House and Senate will vote for this bill if it gets to a vote.

“So they are trying to block the vote on the rule, hoping that people can hide and say: ‘Well, I didn’t really vote against the bill but there was something about the way it was coming up I didn’t like.’ ”

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The crime bill includes funding for 100,000 community-based police officers over a six-year period and $8.3 billion for more prisons. It would require life terms for three-time felons convicted of violent crimes and serious drug offenses.


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