Flag-Burning Amendment Votes Expected to Be Close

THEY will be very close, and they will be soon. Those are the two certainties about the coming congressional votes on a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning. A vote in the full House, expected today, could be as close as the House Judiciary Committee ballot June 19, where a margin of two votes sent the measure to the House floor. The committee, however did not recommend whether it should pass or fail.

The House now must decide whether to approve this first-ever amendment to the Constitution's Bill of Rights; approval requires a two-thirds vote. ``It's going to be a close vote,'' says an aide to Rep. Robert Michel of Illinois, the House Republican leader who is one of the measure's two primary sponsors.

If the House approves, the proposal moves to the Senate, where Majority Leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine promises a vote before Congress adjourns the end of next week for the July Fourth recess. Senate debate is likely to take no more than two days.

At this writing, Senate balloting is expected next week. As in the House, the vote appears too close to forecast.

As they await the votes, members of both Houses are speaking strongly about the amendment, which proposes to override a June 11 Supreme Court decision by saying it is legal for the federal or state governments to pass laws making it illegal to desecrate the United States flag.

Behind the public speeches are the letters members are receiving from constituents.

Several congressional offices report that the volume of letters and phone calls on the amendment appears lighter than a year ago, when the issue first surfaced.

The office of Sen. Thomas Dodd (D) of Connecticut, who opposes an amendment, says three-fourths of the 120 letters received share his opposition. The message is similar to one voters of more-conservative North Carolina are sending their junior Senator, Terry Sanford (D), also an opponent. ``I just finished going through a stack of letters, and the pile opposing an amendment is higher than the one in favor,'' an aide says.

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