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Associated Press
Washington – The Senate used a legislative maneuver Thursday to try to advance a proposal to help U.S. states prosecute attacks on homosexuals, but opponents predicted it would fail.
They attached a hate crime measure to a must-pass bill to fund the war in Iraq in an effort to force President George W. Bush to sign it into law. Opponents, citing Bush’s earlier veto threat of the hate crimes legislation, predicted it ultimately would fail.
“The president is not going to agree to this social legislation on the defense authorization bill,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican. “This bill will get vetoed.”
Attaching hard-to-pass legislation to must-pass bills is a well-established strategy used by lawmakers of both parties, no matter who controls the chamber. Success means forcing squeamish lawmakers to technically vote for controversial policies embedded in massive spending bills – then hold them accountable at re-election time.
Nonetheless, the Senate agreed by voice vote – with no dissenting votes – to attach the hate-crimes provision to a pending defense authorization bill that designates billions of federal dollars to the Defense Department and the Iraq war.
The White House had no immediate comment Thursday.
The bill is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay college freshman who was beaten into a coma in 1998. He died five days later.
Writing violent attacks on gays into federal hate crime laws is an appropriate add-on to legislation funding the war, Democrats argued, because both initiatives are aimed at combating terrorist acts.
“The defense authorization is about dealing with the challenges of terrorism overseas…This (bill) is about terrorism in our neighborhood,” said Sen. Edward Kennedy, the chief Democratic sponsor. “We want to fight terrorism here at home with all of our weapons.”
Agreed the Republican co-sponsor, Sen. Gordon Smith: “We cannot fight terror abroad and accept terror at home.”
That’s a stretch, not to mention a heavy-handed maneuver that hijacks a bill that includes a pay increase for troops in wartime, said Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican.
“I think it’s shameful we’re changing the subject to take care of special interest legislation at a time like this,” Cornyn said on the Senate floor.
Other Republicans complained that states should remain the chief prosecutors of such crimes, as in current law.
“Absent a clear demonstration that the states have failed in their law-enforcement responsibilities, the federalization of hate crimes is premature,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who proposed instead a study of the matter in a separate amendment. That measure passed as well, 96-3.
The White House has contended that state and local laws already cover the new crimes defined under the hate crimes proposal and that there is no need to provide federal sanctions for what could be a wide range of violent crimes.
The hate crimes amendment is especially tempting for majority Democrats because of Bush’s weakened status – he has less than 16 months left in office – and some support for the measure among Republicans.
But given Bush’s veto threat against the provision, it seemed headed for a familiar fate. The Senate in 2004 attached similar legislation to the same authorization bill, but it was stripped out in negotiations with the House.
Republicans were careful not to attack the intent of the legislation, focusing instead on what they said was the “non-germane” nature of the amendment to the overall spending bill.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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