An article Thursday about the crime bill misidentified the party of Rep. Dick Zimmer (N.J.). He is a Republican. (Published 8/20/ 94)
President Clinton's last-minute effort to save the $30 billion crime bill appeared to be paying off yesterday as he picked up the support of three House members, with indications that others could be won over by modest changes the Democrats are offering.
But Clinton still faces resistance from Republicans who are demanding greater concessions.
The first announced vote switches came from members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Cleo Fields (D-La.) -- who had helped block the crime bill last week because they oppose its expansion of the death penalty, which they contend has been applied in a racially discriminatory way.
Along with other Black Caucus members, Rangel and Lewis met with Clinton at the White House yesterday, as Fields had done individually the day before. "He was listening and selling his presidency, the party and the fact that we will not get a better bill than this. I don't think anyone challenges that," Rangel said afterward.
Democratic sources indicated that other lawmakers have changed their positions on the procedural vote that blocked the bill last Thursday, but they would not identify them. Vote counts still left Clinton short of the minimum of eight votes necessary to turn around a 225 to 210 vote and bring the anti-crime legislation to a final House vote. One House Democrat set 15 vote switches as a goal.
House Democrats also neared agreement on a four-point outline of changes in crime prevention, gun control and sex crime provisions to assure passage. However, intraparty disagreements about details, the likelihood of testy negotiations with Republicans and the time required for procedural steps could delay a vote, planned for this week, until Sunday or Monday.
In response to Republican criticism of what they call wasteful social spending, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said one change would trim $7 billion in crime prevention programs by about 5 percent across the board and transfer the $350 million into law enforcement programs "or into Police Corps." The legislation authorizes funding for six years.
Sources said that the transfer to the police corps, which would provide college scholarships in exchange for law enforcement work after graduation, was designed to win over Rep. Dave McCurdy (D-Okla.), who sponsored the proposal. He could not be reached for comment. Sources said he has not committed to change his vote.
Other revisions were being contemplated in the bill's ban on 19 assault-style weapons and copycat models, which has drawn intense opposition from the National Rifle Association and rural conservative Democrats whose constituents use some semiautomatic rifles for hunting and target-shooting.
The exact wording has not been worked out, but one proposal would involve congressional action whenever the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms decides a new assault-style weapon on the market should be banned. A Democratic source said one version would delay implementation for six months and require a vote if Congress wanted to disapprove such additions in the prohibited list. But gun control supporters are adamant that the congressional review not extend to copycat models now on the market.
Other changes under discussion would make the ban expire in five years, instead of 10, and exempt some large-capacity gun clips now on market.
Foley and other Democratic leaders met last evening with Rep. Harold L. Volkmer (D-Mo.) and other opponents of the weapons ban, but did not reach a consensus on any changes. Earlier in the day, Volkmer said his opinion of any proposals for congressional review of ATF bans on new weapons would depend on whether lawmakers have "a chance to knock it down."
Supporters of the assault weapons ban have monitored the negotiations closely. Requiring congressional votes to implement the ban on copycat models currently on the market could substantially weaken the gun control measure, in part because the House and Senate are likely to be more conservative in the new Congress after this fall's elections.
The two other revisions being considered would restore stronger language on notifying residents when repeat sexual offenders are released into the community and delete $10 million authorized for a crime research center at Lamar University in Beaumont, Tex., alma mater of House Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.).
One source said that Democrats hope changes in the "sexual predator" provisions, which Clinton endorsed Tuesday in a call to Rep. Dick Zimmer (D-N.J.), could help sway Zimmer, Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) and Rep. Bob Franks (R-N.J.).
Republicans have held up the funds for Lamar University as an example of "pork" inserted into the crime bill during a House-Senate conference, a charge they have extended to crime prevention programs that were in the House version passed in April. Sources said that the Lamar center might be inserted later into an appropriations bill or other legislation.
As Democrats discussed those revisions to win over more votes, Republicans were sending signals that they were not enough, particularly the proposed cuts in prevention programs. One Democrat said they would be higher than 5 percent, but would not reach $1 billion.
House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Republicans wanted $3 billion to $4 billion or about 15 percent in cuts and tougher federal sentences for armed felons -- cases that are usually prosecuted in state courts. "The question is do they want a crime bill?" he said.
Rep. Christopher Shays (Conn.), leader of the 11 Republican moderates who broke party ranks and supported the rule last week, said, "We want to see at least $1 billion in cuts" from the entire bill. Otherwise, Shays said, "they lose 90 percent of the 11."
Foley complained that every time Democrats make concessions, Republicans "just escalate their demands."
Deeper cuts in prevention programs could cost votes in the Black Caucus, which sponsored the programs as a long-term solution to violent crime.
White House officials were cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the compromise process. One insisted that the administration's efforts were gaining "momentum," but another senior official was more reserved. "It's a very fine and uncertain calculation," the official said. "Every one of these votes you get, you may lose somebody else."
The prevention programs also found supporters among a bipartisan delegation of two-dozen local officials who lobbied House members, including mayors Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York and Richard Riordan of Los Angeles, both Republicans. "The prevention aspect of this bill is very much like the law enforcement part of this bill -- it will reduce crime," Giuliani told reporters.
Rangel, a senior Black Caucus member, said he decided to support the procedural rule on the crime bill after consulting with clergy in his Harlem-based district, who helped him weigh his opposition to the death penalty against the life-saving potential of the weapons ban and prevention programs. "As a leader of my community, after consulting with spiritual advisers, I will be supporting the rule," he said.
Fields said the Justice Department had assured him that the death penalty and life imprisonment for repeat violent offenders would be "applied in a uniform and fair manner."
Since last fall, Justice officials have said they were implementing procedures to guard against bias. They renewed those pledges to Fields, who appeared to have won the department's first commitment to publicly explain its death penalty decisions.
Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.