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Senate: Pass Crime Bill

BOTH hope and skepticism echo from House passage of the politically charged crime bill Sunday, 235 to 195.

Skeptics see a tough fight in the Senate, with the 60 votes needed to prevent a Republican-led filibuster hard to find. They warn that the coalition of 188 Democrats, 46 Republicans, and one independent who joined to pass the compromise does not represent a new era of bipartisanship.

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Those who are hopeful contend that the Senate may have a hard time blocking a bill that won strong backing in the House and that addresses the No. 1 concern of Americans. They argue that the same bipartisan techniques can be used to fashion a broadly accepted health-care bill.

Aside from all the measuring of political aftershocks is the crime bill itself. As reconstituted, it remains fundamentally good legislation. It is perhaps even better for being trimmed from $33.5 billion back to $30.2 billion, the same amount it carried as it first headed into the House Judiciary Committee. At this level, its provisions are fully funded by the crime trust fund, which will pay the way by cutting 252,000 federal jobs.

The important provisions remain: more police, a ban on 19 types of assault weapons, and crime-prevention programs. Regrettably, money for these was cut. And in a spirit of compromise, funds were shifted to block grants that will allow state and local governments to emphasize either prevention or enforcement.

The bill now adds to the list of federal crimes punishable by death without including the Racial Justice Act, which would have addressed the legitimate concerns of black Americans that capital punishment is meted out unfairly. Congress should take up and pass the Racial Justice Act separately to address this wrong.

Still, this bill marks a strong step against a troubling foe: crime. We urge the Senate to join the House and promptly pass this legislation.

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