Democratic lawmakers resolved Friday to resuscitate the $33 billion crime bill, discussing whether to change the ban on assault-style weapons and scrap some crime-prevention projects that had been ridiculed by Republicans as "pork" spending.
The six-year crime bill would fulfill Clinton's campaign pledge to help put 100,000 more police officers on the street and also would provide billions for prisons and crime prevention. It would make more than 50 additional crimes subject to the death penalty and allow life sentences for some third-time felons.Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, helped lead Republicans in an effort Friday to turn the tables on Clinton about who is being too partisan on the measure.
Hatch and other Republican leaders faxed President Clinton a letter on Air Force One, asking for an immediate summit to discuss compromises to save the bill - and to ask him to stop partisan attacks on a House vote he lost Thursday that killed the crime bill.
"When he gets back to the city this afternoon, we would like to meet with him today because there is a sense of urgency," said House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., who joined in the letter. But exactly when or if such a meeting would occur was not immediately clear.
Clinton, hopping mad over the defeat, had traveled to Minnesota to a police convention to step up calls for resurrecting the bill.
"It's the same old Washington game - just stick it to ordinary Americans because special interests can keep you in Congress forever," Clinton said, an apparent reference to the pro-gun lobby. "The time has come . . . to say that the only way for Congress to make their seats safe is to make the rest of America safer."
That riled Hatch.
"Almost all of the really tough provisions in that bill were knocked out in conference" by Democrats, said Hatch, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the bill.
He told a Capitol news conference that House and Senate Democrats had worked out much of the final bill's provisions in private, then enacted them over objections of Republicans. Hatch called for a more bipartisan approach to salvage worthy parts of the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who also joined in the letter, said, "Bipartisanship means we're there at the start, not when they've already put it together and then ask us, `Well, where are you? Why won't you support a bill we put together?' "
Hatch said Clinton was also unfair to blame defeat of the bill on lobbying by the National Rifle Association because it contains a ban on 19 types of semiautomatic weapons.
"When the Senate bill passed 95-4, it contained that ban," Hatch said. "But there were so many other good things in it, that it passed."
"This bill is so full of wrong things - and they took out so many good things. That is the only way it could have been defeated on the rule," Hatch said.
But House Speaker Thomas Foley said he believed the Democratic majority would "put this bill over the top," even though Congress has not passed an election-year crime bill since 1988.
Majority Leader Richard Gephardt said the House would take up the crime bill again late next week. Gephardt said the assault-style weapons ban might have to be reworked to pass the bill, but Clinton seemed determined to keep it intact.
Clinton sought bipartisan support and proved it by including New York GOP Mayor Rudolph Giuliani among his delegation to the National Association of Police Organizations where he ridiculed lawmakers who voted against taking up the crime bill.