Why Take So Long on Crime?

April 14, 1991

"If our forces could win the ground war in 100 hours, then surely the Congress can pass [transportation and crime] legislation in 100 days," President Bush said to the joint session of Congress last month. On crime, at least, why take so long?

The president's version of the crime bill he unveiled last month is very much like elements of a crime bill that had broad support among Democrats in Congress last year. Both House and Senate passed ambitious, wide-ranging bills. A conference committee deadlocked on the controversial parts of the package just before adjournment (and the elections). The elements the president re-submitted were dropped then, and the non-controversial remains were enacted into law.

Had the conference not been an eleventh-hour one, some

advocates of the original package said then, there would have been agreement and enactment of the rest. We believe that package would have been signed by the president, though he, like many liberal Democrats who were willing to vote for it, disapproved of some aspects of the bill.

Now the 100-day clock is ticking along. Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware has introduced his version of a 1991 law. Why not quickly come to a bi-partisan agreement on the new proposals and rush it through the legislative mills?

The principal elements that could be taken from the two versions to produce an enactable bill are an expansion of the federal death penalty, a limit on the use of habeas corpus by prisoners, limits on use of the exclusionary rule and on stiffer sentences for criminals using guns, a waiting period for purchasers of handguns, a ban on some assault weapons and the use of racial statistics in challenging death sentences.

Members of Congress have been thinking about this subject a long period. It is time for a compromise, with both sides yielding. The war on crime is important enough for that. This package could be -- and should be -- on the president's desk long before the 100-day deadline in June.

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