Gingrich Sets Down GOP's Markers For Crime Bill

IN a Monitor breakfast with reporters yesterday, Rep. Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia, the No. 2 Republican in the House, laid out his party's wish list for an improved crime bill.

* An overall price tag of $3.5 billion to $4 billion less on a package whose six-year cost totals more than $33 billion.

* Consolidating crime-fighting and prevention programs into a block-grant approach that would allow local leaders more discretion in deciding how the money is spent.

* Strengthening provisions such as one that requires notification of a community when a sex offender is released from jail.

* A 10-year mandatory penalty for the use of a firearm in the commission of a crime.

* Elimination of the retroactive repeal of mandatory sentences for minor drug offenders.

``I think most of these [the administration] can buy,'' Mr. Gingrich said. ``Most of these aren't money, most of these are public policy, where frankly, the administration is to the right of the Democratic'' members negotiating the bill.

In the past few days, the administration has made some headway in turning ``no'' votes into ``yeses'' as it tries to pass a procedural vote that would send the omnibus crime legislation to the House floor. Last week, Clinton suffered a serious setback when the vote on the ``rule'' failed in the House 225 to 210. The administration needs a net gain of eight votes, but in making concessions to do so, it risks losing some of the votes it had.

On Wednesday, three members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had opposed the rule declared they would now support it. They had opposed the rule because the bill stiffened the death penalty and did not include a provision to allow the use of statistics to challenge death sentences.

But Clinton also must fight to keep the votes he had last week. The 11 Republicans who voted with the president have stated they want cuts of up to $2 billion in crime prevention programs, plus other changes. The White House has already made concessions, such as a promise to remove a $10 million criminal justice center to have been built in the district of Rep. Jack Brooks (D) of Texas, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Gingrich defended the midnight basketball programs that many members have seized upon as pork-barrel spending, but he objected to the bureaucracy that the crime bill would create to support the programs.

``The average citizen - when told that the federal government of the United States ... is now going to have a federal agency to fill out federal forms so you can send in a federal application so you have for the entire country $8 million a year - thinks that it is frankly fairly dumb,'' he said.

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