President Clinton upped the stakes Saturday in his battle with the Republican Congress over how America should fight crime, pledging to veto any attempt to scrap plans to put 100,000 more police on the streets.
The president threw down the veto threat for the first time as House Republicans vowed to push ahead with a rewrite of last year’s crime bill and shift money from prevention to prison-building while giving communities more choice in how they spend federal crime-fighting dollars.
“They want to replace an initiative guaranteed to put 100,000 police on the streets with a block grant program that has no guarantees at all,” Clinton said in his weekly radio address from the Oval Office. “The block grant is basically a blank check that can far too easily be used for things besides police officers.”
Republicans counter that local officials know best what they need to combat crime and should be given more freedom to channel federal dollars where they would do the most good.
In the GOP response to Clinton’s address, Florida Rep. Charles Canady said the Republican plan would give local officials “the flexibility to fight crime in communities throughout America in the most effective way possible.
“It will allow local officials, those with the primary responsibility for fighting crime, to decide how crime-fighting funds can be used most effectively,” Canady said.
Trying to bolster its case, the White House released a series of statements from GOP legislators during the 1994 crime debate in which they said past block grants for crime were used for pork-barrel patronage.
Canady was quoted as saying, “A patronage program for political cronies … is not what the American people want, and it is certainly not something that will do anything to solve the urgent problem of crime in America.”
The president, joined by Attorney General Janet Reno and Drug Control Policy Director Lee Brown, spoke slowly and emphasized each word as he delivered his ultimatum to Congress.
“Anyone on Capitol Hill who wants to play partisan politics with police officers for America should listen carefully,” he said. “I will veto any effort to repeal or undermine the 100,000 police commitment. Period.”
Reno, at a briefing with reporters, said later that Clinton also would veto any effort to repeal the 1994 crime bill’s ban on assault weapons.
The promised vetoes mark a shift to a more confrontational stance in the administration’s strategy for dealing with the Republican Congress.
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