246-171 House vote denies federal agencies broad anti-terrorism powers Amendment to bill backed by NRA, 67 Democrats

March 14, 1996|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - With a big boost from the National Rifle Association, the House voted yesterday to deny federal authorities broad new powers to combat foreign and domestic terrorism.

The vote came on a pivotal amendment by Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, that stripped from an anti-terrorism bill several provisions intended to strengthen the hand of federal law enforcement agencies in detecting, apprehending and prosecuting people suspected of terrorist activities.

The amendment passed by a 246-171 margin, with 67 Democrats and one independent joining 178 Republicans in supporting it.

The bill's sponsors complained that the amendment gutted the legislation and transformed an anti-terrorist measure into a grab-bag of anti-crime provisions that had passed Congress before but never became law.

"We have a serious threat" from terrorists, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde, an Illinois Republican, "and we could've done something about it. Now, it looks like we took a pass and just pretended to do something about it."

Engendered by the bombing in 1993 of the World Trade Center in New York and last April's bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, the legislation was snarled in a dispute mainly among Republicans over how far to go in cracking down on terrorism.

The NRA strongly opposed Mr. Hyde's version of the bill and supported Mr. Barr's amendment.

Many Republicans, particularly the more conservative newcomers, were fearful that federal law enforcers would abuse their powers to investigate and harass right-wing militias and similar groups. As Rep. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, said yesterday: "Among many Americans, there's a far greater fear in this country of our own government than the fear of terrorism."

Among the items deleted from the legislation are provisions that would have expanded the ability of federal agencies to obtain wiretaps and telephone records without warrants, and a provision that would have made it easier to deny entry visas to aliens suspected of belonging to terrorist groups.

Final House action on the diluted bill, which is expected to pass despite the adoption of Mr. Barr's amendment, is scheduled for today. It will then go to a House-Senate conference committee.

Pub Date: 3/14/96

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