Sunday, September 18, 2005

The chairman of the 100-member House Republican Study Committee says conservative lawmakers, already angry about what they see as out-of-control spending, are furious over passage last week of a bill that included an amendment expanding federal hate-crimes protections.

“House conservatives barraged me with their frustration and concern over this bill,” said Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, the RSC chairman. “Our guys are starting to spoil for a fight after this bill.”

The bill, which passed 223-199, would federalize local crimes if the suspected motive is animosity toward homosexuals or “transgender” persons. Existing federal hate-crimes laws already cover women and minorities.

With the help of 30 mostly liberal Republicans, Democrats succeeded in making the measure part of a children’s safety bill in a move that took conservatives by surprise.

“First, we have $50 billion in new spending for Hurricane Katrina relief, with no offsets in other spending,” Mr. Pence said. “Next thing, our side lets this hate-crimes amendment get into a children’s protection bill because we let it come to the floor on an open rule — a vehicle made for liberals to use.”

North Carolina Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, another conservative Republican, says he doesn’t know how or why the House Republican leadership allowed the children’s safety bill to come to the floor under an open rule, meaning unlimited amendments could be proposed and voted on.

“We gave the far left a ripe opportunity for success,” Mr. McHenry said. “As members of the majority party, we’re asking: How could we allow this to happen? Why did we give the opposition an easy route to victory?”

Conservatives in Congress have fought hate-crimes measures, saying such legislation bestows on government the power to presume to know and to punish criminal motives, rather than the crimes themselves.

Rep. John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, presented the hate-crimes legislation in the form of an amendment to House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.’s children’s safety bill, which strengthens the monitoring of child sex offenders and increases penalties for molestation.

Co-sponsors of the hate-crimes amendment included Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank and Wisconsin Rep. Tammy Baldwin, both Democrats, and Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Republicans.

Mr. Pence says House Republicans voted to pass the child-safety bill — it sailed through on a 371-52 vote — with the Conyers hate-crimes amendment attached because they wanted the children’s protection portion and thought the Conyers amendment would not survive joint House-Senate conference reworking of the bill.

“I voted for [the measure] thinking it would be fixed in conference,” Mr. Pence said. “I hope it will, but there are rumblings that the Senate may take the bill as is and pass it and send it to the president, which would be very frustrating to a lot of us.”

“But I have enough confidence in Chairman Sensenbrenner that he will clean this bill up.”

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