Testy House leaders clashed over President Clinton's stalled anti-crime bill Thursday, with Democrats scoffing at Republican efforts to negotiate big cuts in the measure with the White House.
GOP Whip Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., said the $33 billion measure was rife with wasteful spending. He wants to pare it by $3.5 billion and make other changes as well.Gingrich said Republicans were negotiating with the White House - something Clinton invited them to do earlier this week. But he criticized House Speaker Thomas Foley, D-Wash., and other Democratic leaders for ignoring GOP efforts to strike a deal, and instead trying to find just enough votes to move the bill through the House.
"We have been trying to say to the speaker and to the Democrats, `Let's sit down and try to be bipartisan,' and their response has been to try to break arms on their side to try to pass the bill without talking to us," Gingrich said.
Foley responded that Gingrich's demands for rewriting the measure were excessive.
"What Mr. Gingrich basically is talking about is doing the whole crime bill over again," he said.
The fireworks erupted a day after three black Democrats, all death penalty opponents, agreed to help revive the bill on the House floor.
The trio, Reps. Cleo Fields of Louisiana, Charles Rangel of New York and John Lewis of Georgia, are Clinton's first announced converts among House members who used a procedural vote last week to block consideration of the bill. It will take at least five more turnabouts to bring the bill to the House floor, assuming no supporters are lost.
"I cannot in my conscience vote for a crime bill that has 60 different death penalties," Fields said Wednesday. "But I will give the Congress and the American people the opportunity to debate the crime bill."
Lewis and Rangel, who called the death penalty "barbaric" and "racist," also said they would oppose the bill itself.
A handful of other black Democrats stood firm against any support for the measure. The division among the Congressional Black Caucus reflects the complexity of the $33 billion anti-crime package, which blends conservative and liberal programs.
White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta was heading to Capitol Hill again Thursday, pressing for votes on the crime bill and health care reform.
President Clinton planned to lobby lawmakers on behalf of the crime bill by telephone and in Oval Office meetings.