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DEMOS, REPUBLICANS RUSH TO DEVISE NEW CRIME BILL

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Congressional Democrats and Republicans worked feverishly Friday to devise a slimmed-down, $30 billion crime bill that could pass the House, perhaps this weekend.

President Clinton endorsed the developing bill that would see roughly 10 percent, across-the-board cuts from the $33 billion plan put together by House and Senate conferees in late July.The House took steps to allow a possible Saturday vote on a compromise. Negotiators, meeting in several rooms in the Capitol, said they were edging toward a deal that would subject the bill's crime-prevention, police and prison construction programs to reductions of roughly one dollar in 10.

"We are moving toward basic agreements," said Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del., leader of a group of about 40 moderate Republicans with whom Democrats were bargaining. "I'm happy with the tone of it."

"There's a real spirit of cooperation," said Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.

The new version would still include money to help put 100,000 more police on the streets; extend the death penalty to 50 more crimes; require life sentences for some third-time felons, and ban assault-style firearms.

Celebrating his 48th birthday, Clinton said at a news conference, "If I had three wishes, I would wish for the crime bill to pass.

"This is a grassroots, mainstream, nonpartisan issue, and so it should remain," he said. "It must be an American crime bill. We have worked hard on it, and I call upon Congress to pass it without delay."

The House shelved the $33 billion package last week by defeating a procedural measure, 225-210, that would have let it come to the floor for a vote.

Any changes made in that bill would have to win approval anew from House and Senate negotiators before going to the chambers for final action.

Moderate House Republicans were pleased with Democrats' support for a 10 percent across-the-board cut - "a very, very big movement on their part and they should be commended for it," in the words of Rep. John Kasich, R-Ohio.

But there were omens of troubles ahead. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, on arrival Friday night at the Capitol for an anticipated crime bill conference, denounced a 10 percent across-the-board cut as "ridiculous."

Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, meanwhile, called such a cut "a 100 percent non-starter here in the Senate. The focus should be on cutting pork, not on cutting prisons or police."

The moderate House Republicans, with the support of their leaders, negotiated late Thursday and much of Friday with Democrats after sending Clinton a letter seeking a compromise.

Unlike many Republicans and about four dozen Democrats who opposed last week's procedural vote because of its ban on assault-style firearms, Castle said dropping the ban "is a dead issue from our perspective."