House Speeding Through GOP Crime Bills, Clinton Threatens Veto
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton vowed today to veto any attempt to repeal a provision in last year’s crime bill putting 100,000 new police on the streets. ``Undermining this commitment to law enforcement is not acceptable,″ he said.
Clinton previously had suggested he might veto Republican bills that dismantle key elements of last year’s law, but today brought the first explicit veto threat.
Speaking slowly and forcefully, the president declared: ``Anyone on Capitol Hill who wants to play partisan politics with police for Americans should listen carefully: I will veto any effort to repeal or undermine the 100,000 police commitment. Period.″
Clinton made the remarks in his weekly radio address from the Oval Office, where he was joined by Attorney General Janet Reno and Drug Control Policy Director Lee Brown.
Majority Republicans are speeding their anti-crime package through the House, passing in only four days measures that would remold major features of the Democrats’ 1994 crime law.
The House on Friday approved two bills, Nos. 4 and 5 in the six-part crime package that is part of the GOP’s ``Contract With America″ legislative agenda.
The Republican-sponsored bills passed Friday would:
_Boost federal funds for state prisons to $10.5 billion but deny money to states that don’t put more violent criminals behind bars and keep them there longer.
The 265-156 vote was mostly along party lines: 206 Republicans and 59 Democrats voted in favor of the bill, while 135 Democrats, 20 Republicans and one independent opposed it.
_Deport criminal aliens faster once they get out of prison by allowing the removal process to begin when they are sentenced. The bill was approved, 380-20.
Next up is the centerpiece of the Republican package, bill No. 6, that would authorize $10 billion in block grants and give local authorities the choice of spending the money on law enforcement or on crime-prevention programs.
That proposal has drawn the greatest fire from Democrats. They contend it would gut prevention programs, especially for urban youth, and the program to put 100,000 new police officers on the streets that were at the heart of the 1994 law.
The block grants, Democrats charge, would become a political pork barrel for mayors and other local officials who would spend it on public safety items such as street lights rather than police or prevention programs.
As for prison construction, Democrats maintained that the stiffer requirements would make most states ineligible for any of the $10.5 billion.
But the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., said, ``There are over 6 million crimes committed in this country every year. We want to get these people to serve their time. We want to make sure the carrot is out there″ for the states to avoid granting early releases.
The funding is $2.6 billion more than the $7.9 billion authorized in the $30 billion crime law passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress last year. The new five-year measure would require states to enforce stricter sentences in return. The 1994 law imposed similar restrictions on half of its funds.
Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., looking ahead to the crime debate in the Senate, said, ``I don’t know why they (the Republicans) are doing this. ... They say they don’t want to mandate to the states.″ Biden is the Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Democrat.
Half the $10.5 billion in the prison construction bill would be given only to states that have so-called truth-in-sentencing laws requiring serious violent felons to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences. The other half would go only to those states that increase the percentage of violent convicts sent to prison and increase the average time they serve behind bars.
``Under present law, every state qualifies; under this law, no state qualifies,″ said Rep. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chief author of the 1994 bill. ``Don’t sell out your states,″ he argued on the House floor.
McCollum countered, ``Every state in the Union is going to qualify for″ the half of the funds not tied to ``truth-in-sentencing″ requirements.
The criminal alien deportation bill would streamline the removal process and expand the scope of crimes for which aliens can be deported.
Under current law, aliens who commit aggravated felonies can be deported. The bill would enlarge the definition of an aggravated felony to include transporting people for prostitution; serious bribery, counterfeiting or forgery; serious trafficking in stolen vehicles; trafficking in counterfeit immigration documents; and obstruction of justice, perjury or bribing witnesses.
The House agreed Thursday, as part of the prison construction bill, to earmark $650 million a year to reimburse states for the costs of incarcerating criminal aliens.
Earlier this week, the House passed bills that would require criminals to pay full restitution to their victims for damages, impose a one-year limit for death row inmates to file appeals to federal courts and expand the authority of courts to admit evidence that is illegally obtained.