WASHINGTON -- The crime bill died in the Senate yesterday, setting the stage for its use as a political issue in the 1992 elections.
The bitterly contested bill would have extended the death penalty to cover 53 federal crimes, including some not involving killings, provided $3.1 billion to bolster local law enforcement agencies and limited appeals by death row inmates. It also would have required a five-day waiting period to check the backgrounds of handgun buyers.
Partisan shouting over the bill began Tuesday. Democrats hailed it as "breakthrough" legislation that would add federal muscle to local efforts to combat violent crime in the streets. But Republicans denounced it as a sham that would permit the continuation of repeated appeals by death row inmates and hold out false hope of federal aid to local police.
Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., called the bill a "travesty that does more to advance the interests of convicted criminals than it VTC does to protect victims of violent crime."
The bill's chief sponsor, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., D-Del., called Republican charges that the bill was pro-criminal "ludicrous. . . . This is the toughest crime bill that's ever been before the Senate, and it's dead. It was a combination of the National Rifle Association and President Bush -- and they killed it."
The legislation survived a 205-203 vote in the House yesterday morning.
The Maryland delegation was evenly split. Representatives Benjamin L. Cardin, D-3rd, Steny H. Hoyer, D-5th, Tom McMillen, D-4th, and Constance A. Morella, R-8th, voted in favor of the bill. Representatives Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, Kweisi Mfume, D-7th, Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, and Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-1st, voted against it.
The Democrats had hoped to immunize themselves against charges that they were soft on crime by contrasting their support for the bill with an expected Bush veto.
But Republicans, threatening a filibuster as Congress rushed to adjourn, refused to clear the bill for debate. It died when Democratic sponsors failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome that obstacle.