House OKs Crime Bill, Keeps Assault Gun Ban : Congress: The revived measure is trimmed to $30 billion. Clinton calls 235-195 vote a ‘great victory for all law-abiding Americans.’ But a GOP filibuster could await in the Senate.
On a roller-coaster ride to the end, President Clinton’s anti-crime bill finally squeezed through a surly and exhausted House on Sunday night after Democrats made major concessions to win enough Republican votes to overcome fierce opposition by the gun lobby.
Stripped of nearly a third of its spending for the social programs opposed by Republicans but with its ban on the sale of assault weapons intact, the $30-billion measure was approved, 235 to 195, after what both sides agreed was one of the fiercest legislative battles in recent memory.
In Oval Office remarks shortly after the vote, President Clinton lauded passage of the bill as “a great victory for all law-abiding Americans.”
“This is the way Washington ought to work, and I hope it will work this way in the future,” he said.
Clinton praised House Republicans for helping to save the bill, saying that he was “very grateful” for their aid. A major victory for him, the election-year struggle over the crime bill had come to represent a portentous trial of the Democrats’ ability to govern.
However, in a warning that at least one more hairpin curve lies ahead on the crime bill’s tortuous legislative course, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said that he expects Republican senators to try to filibuster the package when it goes to the upper chamber this week. “They will filibuster, and it’s going to be tough, but I think we’ll get enough votes to pass it,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said.
The legislation provides for hiring as many as 100,000 police officers over six years, building new prisons, funding crime prevention programs, banning the sale of certain assault weapons, expanding the death penalty and mandating life in prison for three-time violent offenders. For the moment at least, the White House and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill were both exultant and relieved that they had brought the crime bill this far with its assault weapon ban intact, despite tenacious opposition by the National Rifle Assn. and other gun lobbying groups.
“The people who hate guns are in the majority right now,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.), admitting that he and about 50 other pro-NRA Democrats had waged an unsuccessful campaign to kill the weapon ban.
They almost succeeded when they joined forces Aug. 11 with Republicans to block the House from considering the original bill on a narrow procedural vote. Stunned by a defeat orchestrated in part by members of its own party, the Clinton Administration began negotiating with moderate Republicans, who agreed to support the bill after winning about $3.3 billion in spending cuts and stiffer penalties for some offenses in a marathon round of weekend talks ending early Sunday.
The GOP moderates delivered 42 votes, more than enough to allow Clinton to prevail, 239 to 189, on the procedural vote the second time around Sunday. But another hurdle loomed when opponents sought to send the bill back to the drafting table with instructions to incorporate alternative provisions that would have dropped the assault weapon ban and cut even more of the spending that many Republicans had derided as “pork.”
Suddenly fearful that it would be unable to hold its narrow bipartisan coalition together on that motion, the White House waged an eleventh-hour lobbying blitz. The Democratic leadership warned its members that with their votes rode the fate of far more than just the anti-crime bill, one of Clinton’s legislative priorities in this election year.
“We’ve been telling them that, more than any other vote this year, the crime bill is a test of party loyalty,” a senior Democratic strategist said. “We’ve been telling them that the way they vote could affect the health care debate and even the party’s chances of retaining control of the House next year.”
The NRA also lobbied furiously, flooding congressional offices on Sunday with leaflets and letters that warned members to beware of “the incredible voter anger brewing outside the (Washington) Beltway” and its consequences for their reelection efforts in November.
In the end, however, the White House strategy worked as Clinton held on to the votes of 31 of the 38 members of the Congressional Black Caucus in spite of their opposition to the anti-crime bill’s expanded death penalties and the steep spending cuts in crime prevention programs favored by liberal lawmakers.
In an effort to attract the caucus’ votes, the GOP leadership dropped the death penalty provisions from its alternative bill, which was hurriedly drafted late Saturday by Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) and Bill Brewster (D-Okla.).
But even though the Black Caucus favored the anti-crime bill itself, 24 to 11, most of its members stuck by the Administration on the second procedural vote that marked the defeat of the gun lobby and cleared the way for final passage of what Clinton hailed as the “toughest” anti-crime legislation ever to clear the House.
On the second vote, which both sides agreed was the key to final passage, 201 Democrats and 30 Republicans sided with the Administration, while 51 Democrats and 146 Republicans voted against it.
The bill, said Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.), was still “the most balanced approach to crime that this country has seen in a long time,” even though the weight of its provisions had been shifted to “an ounce of prevention (for) a pound of punishment.”
Under the compromise negotiated with the GOP moderates led by Reps. Michael N. Castle of Delaware and John R. Kasich of Ohio, the measure that moves to the Senate this week includes $30 billion in funding over six years for a broad array of law enforcement and crime prevention programs.
Financed by a trust fund fed by the savings that are expected to accrue from the anticipated elimination of 270,000 federal jobs over the next few years, the crime bill would provide $13.45 billion to hire more police and beef up the budgets of law enforcement agencies, $9.85 billion for prison construction, $5.9 billion for prevention programs, such as midnight basketball leagues and other after-hours activities for troubled youths, and $1 billion to establish a program of alternative sentencing and treatment for drug users.
Other key provisions include a 10-year ban on the manufacture and sale of 19 types of assault weapons, expansion of the death penalty to include more than 60 federal offenses, new regulations to help protect women against stalkers and spousal abusers, stricter registration requirements for paroled sex offenders and the “three strikes and you’re out” law mandating life imprisonment for three-time convicted felons.
Most of the changes negotiated with the GOP moderates centered on the crime prevention side of the package. A $650-million youth job training program was eliminated while other prevention programs like midnight basketball were either cut by 10% or rolled into block grants.
The compromise also permits charges of previous sex offenses to be admitted into evidence when accused sex offenders are tried in federal courts, requires police to notify communities when convicted sex offenders move into their areas and significantly restricts the original bill’s provisions on the early parole of nonviolent drug offenders.
With the momentous floor fight over, exhausted lawmakers grabbed their bags and literally fled out the doors, eager to get home to their districts to begin a long-delayed summer recess.
For Clinton, the main plus was in preserving the assault weapon ban--an accomplishment that allowed him to claim final victory even though he was forced to accept steep cuts in crime prevention programs.
But his victory came after so much agony and partisan conflict that it appeared Pyrrhic--confirming his tenacity as a fighter but doing little to erase the impression, after days of apocalyptic press coverage, that he is a weak President.
The Republicans, for their part, were clearly elated with their ability to demonstrate that Clinton no longer can ignore them, even in a Congress nominally controlled by Democrats.
But while the spending cuts they negotiated allowed them to claim that they had made a “bad bill better,” in the words of GOP Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), many Republicans were quietly acknowledging that the bill may have been the wrong issue on which to draw their own highly partisan line in the sands of election-year politics.
Upset that Clinton was upstaging them on crime--an issue on which they traditionally have appeared stronger than Democrats--the Republicans repeatedly attacked the bill as a pork-loaded measure that was too soft on criminals.
“Criminals need arraignment, not entertainment,” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.).
But in the end, several GOP lawmakers privately voiced concerns that they had succeeded only in portraying themselves as partisan obstructionists and allies of the opponents of gun control--an issue on which they were at odds not only with public opinion but many of their own mayors and governors and nearly every major law enforcement agency in the country.
California Delegation’s Votes
Here is how members of the California delegation voted on the $30-billion crime bill:
Democrats for--Becerra, Beilenson, Berman, Brown, Condit, Dixon, Dooley, Edwards, Eshoo, Farr, Fazio, Filner, Hamburg, Harman, Lantos, Lehman, Martinez, Matsui, Miller, Mineta, Pelosi, Roybal-Allard, Schenk, Stark, Torres, Waxman, Woolsey
Republicans for--Gallegly, Horn, Huffington
Democrats against--Dellums, Waters
Republicans against--Baker, Calvert, Cox, Cunningham, Doolittle, Dornan, Dreier, Herger, Hunter, Kim, Lewis, McCandless, McKeon, Moorhead, Packard, Pombo, Rohrabacher, Royce, Thomas
Democrats not voting--Tucker
Crime Bills Compared
Here is how the $33.2-billion crime bill defeated by the House on a procedural vote Aug. 11 compares to the $30-billion legislation it passed Sunday.
Original--Authorizes $7.4 billion in grants to set up after-school programs for children, midnight sports leagues, job training and other measures. Includes $1.8 billion for the Violence Against Women Act, a measure featuring grants to reduce domestic violence and other gender-related crimes and to train law enforcement officials in dealing with violence against women.
Compromise--Cuts $2 billion from prevention measures, with an across-the-board 10% reduction in all the measures and more severe cuts in some. It combines some individual grants into a $379.7-million block designed to give localities more authority in determining how the money would be spent.
Original--Extends the death penalty to more than 50 newly created or existing federal offenses, such as treason, drive-by shootings and murder of a federal law enforcement official.
Original--Bans manufacture of 19 named military-style assault weapons and “copycat” models and ammunition magazines with more than 10 rounds. Prohibits sale of firearms to anyone subject to a family violence restraining order.
Original--Authorizes $8.3 billion for construction of prisons and boot camps. Of that money, 60% would go to states that demonstrate improvement in making violent criminals serve long sentences. The remaining 40% would be set aside for states that adopt truth-in-sentencing laws, which can mandate that a certain percentage of a sentence must be served.
Compromise--Authorizes $9.8 billion for prison construction and boot camps. Of those funds, 50% would go to states that have already passed truth-in-sentencing laws, while the remaining half would be used on a discretionary basis. Most of those funds would be distributed to the states according to a government formula.
Original--Authorizes $10.7 billion for state and local law enforcement, including $8.8 billion to hire 100,000 new police officers over six years.
Compromise--Authorizes $13.45 billion to hire more police and beef up the budgets of law enforcement agencies.
Original--Most of the bill would be financed by a $30-billion trust fund made up of money saved by the White House’s “reinventing government” initiative, which is designed to reduce bureaucracy. About $3 billion would come from tax revenue.
Compromise--The legislation’s programs would be paid for solely by the trust fund.
Original--The names of sexual predators--people who commit sex crimes against children or adults--must be registered with law enforcement agencies for 10 years, subject to annual verification.
Compromise--Sexual predators must be registered for 10 years, subject to annual verification. Some sexual predators involved in more violent acts must be registered permanently and would be subject to quarterly reporting. The rule also provides for notifying communities that a sexual predator lives in or is moving to the area.
MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES
Original--The legislation exempted retroactively some nonviolent, first-time drug offenders from federal mandatory minimum sentences of five and 10 years.
Compromise--Limits the retroactivity of the exemptions.
The compromise legislation includes some measures not in the original bill, including new rules of evidence, such as allowing admission of prior sex offenses as evidence at trial, effective after a five-month review by a panel of federal judges. If the judges approve the change, it would become effective 30 days afterward. If they do not approve, it would become effective in five months unless Congress acts to block it.