Clinton, GOP move closer on crime bill

August 17, 1994|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton swallowed his pride and met last night with Republican members of Congress, including his nemesis, Rep. Newt Gingrich, in an effort to break the impasse on a $33 billion crime bill that now seems destined for passage in some form.

The gesture seemed to pay immediate dividends. Mr. Gingrich, a combative Georgia conservative who is the No. 2 Republican in the House, sounded conciliatory last night after the meeting, and went out of his way to praise the president.

"It was a sincere outreach to Republicans," Mr. Gingrich said.

"It was a warm and fuzzy meeting," said Rep. Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican.

White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta also praised the meeting but said in a statement last night that Mr. Clinton "would not accept massive cuts in the prevention programs the law enforcement community believes are so necessary to help young people avoid a life of crime in the first place."

What seems clear is that the crime bill will be scaled down, but not in a way that cuts into the portions of the legislation most cherished by each side. Conservatives will likely have to accept some modification of the death penalty provisions. And liberals will probably have to agree to cuts in spending proposals, such as inner-city "midnight basketball programs."

'It will be passed'

House Speaker Thomas S. Foley said he thought this could be accomplished by the weekend and predicted flatly, "It will be passed."

Mr. Gingrich also said last night that he thought the White House, the House Republicans and the House Democrats would be able to forge a deal quickly.

After Thursday's defeat of the crime bill, Mr. Gingrich immediately offered to meet with the president. That offer was spurned as the president went on the offensive against the Republican leadership and the National Rifle Association.

The White House had banked on a galvanizing of public opinion that would pressure members into changing their minds. But the opposite seems to have happened. Mr. Panetta met yesterday with the 11 Republicans who supported the president Thursday -- and was alarmed enough by what he heard to invite them to the White House to meet with Mr. Clinton.

These members -- the president described them as "11 brave Republicans" -- had apparently gotten the opposite message: that the bill should be scaled down. They conveyed this to the president -- in Mr. Gingrich's presence -- and apparently helped set the stage for the pending compromise.

Mr. Clinton's problem wasn't just Republicans. Fifty-eight Democrats voted against the bill, and Mr. Clinton spent much of the day trying to woo people who might ordinarily be expected to support him.

Painstaking process

But the reactions of just two key members showed how painstaking the process of lining up support would be.

Yesterday afternoon, the president called Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest of Maryland, one of 17 Republicans who voted for the crime bill in April and for an assault-weapons ban -- but then turned around and voted against the rule on Thursday.

Mr. Gilchrest, who represents Annapolis and the Eastern Shore, sounded uncomfortable with his vote -- but said he wasn't going to change it unless the bill changed, too. Among the features he would like to see altered were:

* A reduction of some of the social programs Republicans have questioned, including $45 million for "midnight basketball" leagues.

* Increased money for police officers. Democrats have insisted that the $8.3 billion they have in the bill would pay for 100,000 new officers, but the math doesn't add up, as Mr. Clinton has tacitly acknowledged.

* Tightening of rules for notifying communities that convicted sex offenders were being released by prison authorities.

* Dropping a $10 million criminal-justice center in the Texas district of Rep. Jack Brooks, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

"I told the president that if these changes are made, I would vote for the bill," Mr. Gilchrest said.

Earlier, Mr. Clinton met with Rep. Cleo Fields, a Louisiana Democrat, who had different concerns.

Mr. Fields was one of nine liberal black Democrats who voted against the "rule," a preliminary vote to allow the crime bill to come to a vote in the House. His stated reason was opposition to the death penalty and the fear that the bill's "three strikes and you're out" provision for federal crimes would fall unduly on blacks.

Mr. Clinton characterized the black Democrats' opposition as an act "of principle," but it demonstrated the problems a Democrat in the White House faces. Unlike the 50 conservative white Democrats from mostly rural districts who voted against the bill primarily because of the gun ban, the black members hail from districts that are safe in November.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.