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Washington Outlook: Capital Wrapup

CONGRESS

The truth may have been the first victim of the crime bill Congress passed on Aug. 26. Remember the bitter confrontation between Democrats and Republicans over how much to spend on alleged pork? It turns out that a week before the Senate passed the measure, lawmakers quietly agreed to spend the very money that had sparked their battle. On Aug. 19, the Senate took a break in its anti-crime debate and voted 88-10 for a routine fiscal 1995 spending measure. It included $2.4 billion for nearly all the "wasteful" programs the GOP was maligning--antigang efforts, a juvenile mentoring program, and drug-abuse prevention.

That spending bill was a first-year downpayment on the $30 billion, six-year crime measure, which requires Congress to vote annually to release funds. Unlike the deeply partisan crime measure, the spending bill was backed by all but two Democrats and most Republicans, including Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and New York's Alfonse M. D'Amato. Just days after voting to spend the money for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, D'Amato took to the floor, attacking the "pork" in the crime bill with his version of "Old MacDonald." President Clinton and Democrats played along with the charade. Though they cried that a defeat would handcuff efforts to curtail crime, they knew Congress had already approved the first batch of money.

If anyone has real cause to cry, it would be those state and local officials who were supposed to be the beneficiaries of federal largesse. Because of tough spending caps enacted in 1990 and 1993, the crime bill will have to be funded largely by offsetting cuts in other domestic programs. That means many cities and states will get new anticrime money just as they lose an equal amount of federal grant assistance, much of it used for--what else--crime prevention. "It's almost a shell game," admits one abashed Senate aide. By Howard Gleckman


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