Bipartisan negotiations on a compromise crime bill neared a conclusion late Saturday as Democratic leaders predicted they had made sufficient concessions to win enough moderate Republicans to pass the stalled legislation.
"We're very close. Most of the key issues are near resolution," said White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta, who participated in the negotiations at the Capitol. "I am confident that we can get to a vote tonight. I think this agreement will produce the votes (for passage)."Negotiators resolved most budgetary issues during an all-night session that ended just before dawn and then resumed the private discussions about midmorning, focusing on policy issues. House Republicans continued to set the negotiating agenda and expanded it.
"We solve one thing, and another thing comes up," said Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., one of the negotiators.
House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo., who hosted the negotiating sessions in his Capitol office, said the focus on narrow policy issues is commonplace in lengthy negotiations. "Individual issues become magnified . . . and it's hard to get people looking at the forests," he said. "People are exhausted, and they get mad."
Pressing for a late-night vote, negotiators finished writing documents spelling out where $3.3 billion in budget cuts had been made in a crime bill that Democrats regard as a balanced package of more police, punishment and prevention. The cuts would leave the bill's authorized spending over six years at about $30 billion, to come entirely from a trust fund funded by savings from federal personnel cuts. An additional $3.3 billion that had been authorized for crime-fighting from other sources was eliminated.
Unofficial accounts of the reductions indicated that a $7 billion package of crime prevention programs, which Republicans attacked as wasteful "social programs," took more than half the cuts. Programs largely designed to steer youngsters away from crime were cut about $700 million, and a $650 million youth jobs program was eliminated. Several smaller prevention programs, including midnight basketball leagues, were rolled into block grants totaling $300 million to $400 million.
The Congressional Black Caucus sponsored most of the crime prevention efforts, and word that they had been cut more deeply than police or prison programs did not go down well with several of its freshman members.
"Sounds like they're getting close to losing a lot of caucus votes," warned Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C..
"We need that jobs program," Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-Md., said. "You talk to gang members and that's what they say - "Give us some jobs because we ain't flipping hamburgers.' "
The Clinton administration proposed the youth jobs program, which Republicans said duplicated job training programs spread throughout the federal government.