A key Republican congressional leader said yesterday that a House vote on the proposed constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the American flag was too close to call.

House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), interviewed on NBC News's "Meet the Press," said the latest Republican count in the House shows the outcome within "10 votes either way." Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), appearing on the same show, said the Democrats had the same count.

Congressional leaders appear to be pushing for a floor vote in both houses before the start of the July 4 recess. President Bush called for an amendment to prohibit desecration of the flag after the Supreme Court ruled that a federal law passed last year that banned such desecration was unconstitutional because it infringed on freedom of speech.

The amendment must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, then by three-fourths of the state legislatures.

Although Gingrich and Moynihan agreed a vote would be close, they disagreed over whether an amendment is needed.

Moynihan defended last week's Supreme Court ruling, saying, "I think it was a correct one."

"You hate what the son of a bitch is saying {by burning a flag}, but he has the right to say it," Moynihan shouted. He warned that Americans should not let their anger at people who burn flags "provoke us into diminishing our rights."

Gingrich said supporters of the amendment are "taking a very natural American position" and "following the correct technical procedures." He said the amendment would restore what had been nearly 200 years of common practice.

"Why doesn't the country at large have the right to very narrowly amend the Constitution to rebuke these five lawyers?" Gingrich asked, referring to the five-member majority of the Supreme Court in last week's flag ruling. He said he does not believe the amendment is "a major threat to our liberties."