ON THE OPPOSITE page, you will find two communications taking exception to our endorsement of a crime bill passed by the lame-duck Congress. The measure will die by pocket veto unless the president signs it by Friday. This bill combines a variety of anti-crime proposals that had been passed by one house or the other; in its final version it was approved by the House 271-27 and accepted by the Senate on a voice vote.
Both Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Associate Attorney General Rudolph Giuliani have important responsibilities in the area of criminal justice. Both, initially, have jurisdictional problems with the bill. Rep. Conyers complains that two controversial provisions on chronic offenders and coordination of the drug enforcement program were not reported by the House Judiciary Committee; he is a subcommittee chairman. But both provisions had been passed by the Senate in September. The chronic offender bill was adopted 93-1, and the drug provision was part of an omnibus crime bill approved 95-1. Mr. Guiliani thinks the war on drugs is going smoothly under the leadership of his own department, and he objects to the provision in the chronic offender section that requires the consent of local prosecutors to shift such cases to federal court.
The president must look beyond questions of jurisdiction. Granted, the bill was put together in the dying hours of the last Congress. But nothing in the compromise came as a surprise. It was not slipped by uncomprehending members. They approved it by overwhelming majorities.
As for the two controversial provisions, we continue to believe they can be worked out. The chronic offender program will be used in only a few hundred cases the first year. Local prosecutors may be delighted to have some of the worst offenders shifted to the federal system, where faster trials, stiffer sentences and more prison facilities are available. If coordination between local and federal prosecutors is not forthcoming, the law can be revised.
As for drug enforcement, two General Accounting Office studies have urged coordination of the kind that Congress has just approved. This need not take away from the attorney general's authority or create a whole new bureaucracy, for the president can appoint him or any other Cabinet member to coordinate efforts of the relevant federal departments. A pocket veto kills a bill with many worthwhile provisions because of objections that can be met with a little imagination and good will.