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CRIME BILL TRIED TO DO TOO MUCH

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President Clinton obviously suffered a major defeat this week when the U.S. House of Representatives rejected a move to bring the massive $33 billion crime bill up for a vote - in effect defeating it as written.

Any legislation dealing with a subject as important to the public as crime certainly can be revived. Yet it already is clear that the measure will have to be changed in order to attract enough votes.Clinton thought he had a sure victory. After all, he had lobbied hard, had some Republican support for an earlier similar version and had carefully counted votes. Congress routinely passes crime bills, regarding them as fail-safe vote getters. Polls showed solid public support.

Yet Utah's representatives, for example, voted 2-1 against the bill, despite its proposals for 1,000 more police officers for the Beehive State, $98 million in law enforcement, $15 million for prisons and $33 million for prevention programs - a total of $146 million federal dollars for Utah.

What happened that turned conventional wisdom on its head?

First of all, while there was a great deal to like in crime bill, there also was much to dislike.

The measure became caught in ideo-logical, partisan and special-interest crossfires that made it difficult to build a majority. Nearly everybody objected to something.

The National Rifle Association is getting the most attention for its powerful lobbying against the bill because of a section banning assault weapons. Public opinion polls show 71 percent support for such a ban. However, the NRA has not lost its clout, especially in the South and West.

Some members didn't like the way the crime bill had ballooned to include a long list of pork-barrel spending, social programs and special interest causes. Others had doubts about federal funding that wouldn't last long, requiring state and local governments to pick up the slack.

Some members of the House Black Caucus voted against the measure because it didn't allow appeals of racial bias in death sentence cases.

Republicans voted almost en masse against the bill, reasoning that a successful crime bill would be ammunition in the hands of Democrats in this fall's election. Whether that opposition will backfire against the GOP this fall remains to be seen.

But one of the biggest political reasons for the loss was the defection of 58 Democrats against Clinton's wishes and against their own House leaders. That defection seems to underline the president's weakness in his own party.

Unless a compromise can be worked out quickly - a difficult task - the House is likely to adjourn this summer without another vote on the measure.

One lesson from the fiasco seems clear. Congress and the president tried to do too much and the measure got away from them like a cattle stampede. Next time, focus on the essentials and keep it simple.