Every Vote Counts on Crime Rule

August 10, 1994

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a parliamentary procedure today that could decide whether there will be a ban on certain assault weapons -- and maybe even on whether there will be a crime bill at all. The outcome is in doubt. It could be very, very close. "A single representative could determine the outcome," said one vote counter. It could come down to how two Marylanders vote.

The situation is this: The Senate passed a crime bill that included money for extra police, training, new prisons, crime prevention social programs and the limited assault weapons ban. The House passed two bills, an omnibus crime bill without the weapons ban and a separate bill limited to an assault weapons ban. In a House-Senate conference, the separate assault weapons ban was blended into the omnibus bill. Since that bill is different than the House original, the House can't vote it up or down unless it first approves a rule bringing it to the floor as an indivisible whole.

The National Rifle Association has warned that anyone who votes for the rule will pay a price. This seems aimed at politicians such as Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. Like many conservative Republicans she opposes the ban, but she favors many of the tough anti-criminal provisions. (She voted against the separate weapons ban bill and for the separate omnibus bill.) She'd like to have the latter without the former, which is possible but risky.

It's risky because while there are solid majorities in House and Senate for a crime bill without the ban, there may be enough senators on the right and left to filibuster such a revised crime bill to death at this late and crowded hour in the session.

The truly safe -- and responsible -- vote is in favor of the rule. Swallow the ban in order to make sure the crime bill becomes law. Her vote could make the difference.

So could Rep. Kweisi Mfume's. He strongly supports the ban and some of the other features of the bill. He voted for both bills originally. But because a section calling for the use of racial statistics in capital sentencing was deleted in conference, he, like several members of the Congressional Black Caucus which he heads, is said to be prepared to vote against the rule as a symbolic gesture. There must be a better way. If his vote kills the assault weapons ban and/or the omnibus bill, it would be a hollow symbolism.

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