A major reason cited for the House's stunning vote last week to block the crime bill was the Republicans' contention that it would waste billions of dollars on unnecessary social programs.
But if the $30 billion legislation reeks of "pork," as Republicans charge, they didn't wake up and smell the bacon frying until recently.
The legislation swelled into the most expensive crime bill ever as it moved through Congress during the last year, but the crime prevention programs that Republicans now denounce in their latest objections have always been a part of various versions that attracted some GOP support. And more funding continues to be directed to law enforcement and prison-building programs that Republicans favor.
Administration officials called the anti-pork attack a smoke screen, stoked by the National Rifle Association, to cover GOP opposition to the bill's ban on 19 assault weapons and similar military-style weapons. Congressional Democrats have debated whether to omit the gun ban from the bill before the House tries again to pass it this week, but yesterday Clinton said he would insist that the gun control measure be retained.
"The crime bill must ban the assault weapons that have no place on our streets," Clinton declared in his weekly radio address.
House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) countered by urging that the weapons ban, which the House passed 216 to 214 in May, be stripped out and voted on separately in the Senate because "trying to hide it in the crime bill is bad public policy." Democrats have pointedly accused Republicans of shifting the focus of their objections to the crime bill in the last month in a partisan effort to deny Clinton and Democrats political credit for addressing the public's top concern in what could prove a crucial election year. Republicans have said that the changes have not gone far enough.
"Now the Republicans say, well, there's too much money for prevention in this bill," Clinton said. "They call it pork. Well, all I know is, all the police officers in this country know we need to give kids something to say yes to."
From the Senate floor, Minority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) urged Clinton to remove "excessive spending" from the crime bill and restore stiffer sentences for gun crimes and some drug offenses. "It would go a long way toward reaching strong bipartisan support," Dole said.
Before the House passed its $28 billion version April 21, a major target of Republican opposition was proposed changes in death row appeals. They were deleted, and a crime bill containing $6.6 billion for prevention programs was approved, 285 to 141, with support from 65 Republicans. On the day of that vote, only Rep. George W. Gekas (R-Pa.), went to the floor to complain about "Great Society" spending in the bill.
Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.) staked out Republican positions for more money to build state prisons and against "racial justice" safeguards against bias in death sentencing. McCollum and Gingrich said that most Republicans opposed the bill because of racial "quotas" for convicted murderers.
The House-Senate conference committee that completed its work last month deleted the controversial death penalty provisions. It was during that conference that Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and House Republicans began to criticize prevention programs as pork.
The shifting sources of GOP opposition have exasperated Rep. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who helped patch together what would be the first major crime bill enacted in six years.
"Every time this bill is improved, you find a new objection," Schumer told Republicans Thursday before they almost unanimously helped block the crime bill on a 225 to 210 vote.
Asked about Schumer's reference to changes already made to address other GOP objections, Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) replied, "It wasn't enough of a correction to bring Republican support over."
But the bottom line for prevention programs in the bill's final version looks much like it did in the original House version.
From $6.6 billion in the House bill, the conference committee raised the total for prevention programs to $7 billion, not including $425 million for drug treatment of state and federal inmates.
Funds were shifted among almost 30 prevention programs, with the biggest increase going to combat domestic violence against women. Funding for those programs, which enjoy bipartisan support, was boosted from the $700 million in the House bill to the $1.8 billion authorized in the Senate's.
Senate Republicans have more grounds for arguing against increased spending for crime prevention than do their House colleagues. The Senate version, passed 95 to 4 last November, contained $3.8 billion for that purpose.
One prevention program that Republicans have singled out for special scorn, midnight basketball leagues, was reduced from $50 million to $40 million. The most costly prevention efforts would be $1.8 billion for domestic violence programs, $1.8 billion for local anti-crime efforts, $895 million for model anti-crime programs in 15 cities and $650 million for youth jobs, a program Clinton has touted.
Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), one of 11 Republicans who voted to clear the way for final action on the crime bill, said many of his GOP colleagues opposed the prevention programs because most represent affluent suburbs and do not understand how the lack of youth recreation increases crime in cities.
When Republicans hear "about midnight basketball, they laugh," he said. In his Connecticut district, Shays said that 27,000 youngsters participate in 140 sports leagues in the affluent suburb of Westport. But in nearby Bridgeport, the state's largest city, "when kids get out of school at 2:30 there's simply no activities for them," he said.
By far, most of the crime bill's funding would go to police and prisons. Less than a quarter would go to prevention programs.
Local governments would receive $10.7 billion to hire 100,000 police officers, an increase of about 20 percent. Federal law enforcement would receive another $2.6 billion. There would be $6.5 billion to build state prisons and $1.8 billion to reimburse states for incarceration of illegal immigrants.
Finally, $1.3 billion would be allocated to establish "drug courts" that would try to rehabilitate first-time, nonviolent offenders. Republicans count the funds for drug courts as a prevention program.
Despite the greater funding for police and prisons, Republicans have tried to redefine the "crime bill" as wasteful pork and social spending in an attempted reprise of the successful Senate Republican attack on Clinton's economic stimulus package last year.
Frank Luntz, a pollster who has done work for the National Rifle Association, advised Republican members of Congress last week to call the crime bill "A Social Worker's Employment Bill" or "The Midnight Basketball Bill." He cited his early August poll, in which 57 percent of 1,000 registered voters cited "stronger punishment" as a better way to prevent crime, compared to 38 percent who said "social programs."
While Republicans have targeted what they call pork, administration officials have focused on guns and have targeted 29 House Republicans who favored the assault weapons ban in May but voted last week to block the crime bill.
Staff writers Helen Dewar and Dana Priest contributed to this report.