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Majority Leader Sees Crime Bill Shifting to Right

MAJORITY leader Richard Gephardt hinted at a Monitor breakfast Friday that the crime bill would be shifted to the right this week in the House.

He acknowledged that the bill would probably need to pass with largely Democratic support - blaming Republican obstructionism. But he suggested that the assault-weapons ban, which cost the votes of some conservative Democrats as well as Republicans, may be modified.

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``I believe a form of this bill can pass,'' said Congressman Gephardt (D) of Missouri.

By early Friday morning after the staggering defeat of the crime bill in the House Thursday night, Democratic leaders were showing their stamina. They had already regrouped their ambitions and put aside plans to recess this week. The Senate is going to take much longer than expected to debate health-care bills, and the House votes must await cost estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

But the setback on what Mr. Gephardt calls the first-ever comprehensive crime bill has handed the House even more urgent business in town than returning to home districts to prepare for fall campaigns.

Friday morning, just hours after the crime-bill vote, Gephardt was planning to revive the crime bill and win it this week. He expects to retain the assault-weapons ban in the bill, but suggested that it may take a different form. That might allow for picking up some conservative votes that fell away since the House originally passed the bill.

The original House bill passed with more than 280 votes, including 68 Republicans. In the vote Thursday, technically to approve the rule that would allow an up-or-down floor vote on the bill, only 11 Republicans voted approval.

``There's a clear effort at obstructionism here,'' Gephardt said. ``It's vivid. The bill hasn't changed that much.''

The setback to Democrats on the crime bill comes just as the health-reform votes are nearing. With August recess postponed, the House now has a window of a few days to deal with crime. This is because the House is waiting on the CBO to estimate costs and budget impacts in four House health-care bills that leaders plan to hold floor votes on.

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Right now, the CBO is working on the Senate versions of health reform. As senators pile on amendments to the bill, the CBO will need to work up estimates on those too.

``This is a real problem,'' Gephardt says. The CBO estimates are ``the only common benchmark we have on these bills.'' Once the CBO submits its cost estimates of the House bills, Gephardt says, then House members open a form of negotiation - suggesting changes to the bills in an attempt to bring the estimates down.

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