A sharply divided House passed on Thursday a watered-down bill to combat terrorism and crime after two days of debate over the balance between protecting public safety and preserving civil liberties.
But President Bill Clinton said the measure, stripped of key proposals intended to crack down on domestic terrorism, was too weak to be effective.
"If we're going to have a bill, we need a real bill," Clinton said aboard Air Force One as he flew to Washington from Jerusalem, where he pledged to help the Israelis fight terrorism. "I certainly hope that when this bill gets to conference it will be made much stronger."
The House passed the bill 229-191 one day after a coalition of conservative Republicans and pro-gun Democrats voted to remove key provis ions, arguing that they would have given too much power to federal law enforcement officials in the name of combating terrorists.
The amended bill includes none of the expanded powers for federal law enforcement agencies recommended by the House Judiciary Committee after the Oklahoma City bombing, and it was endorsed overwhelmingly by the Senate last June.
"What remains is a low-grade crime bill - cats and dogs from the Judiciary Committee . . . that have nothing to do with fighting terrorism," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.
One of the key provisions deleted would have permitted the government to designate certain organizations as terrorist and denied entrance visas to their representatives.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., urged approval of the bill so that House-Senate negotiators could try to work out a compromise with the anti-terrorism bill the Senate passed 91-8 in June. Gingrich said he hoped the compromise could be reached by April 19, the first anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
He said he hoped a provision could be restored to prevent U.S. fund raising by terrorist organizations that would be identified by the secretary of state and the attorney general, such as Hamas, the militant Muslim group.
But Democrats said Thursday's House action dooms chances of getting a strong anti-terrorism bill. "I frankly don't know now whether we'll have an opportunity to pass a meaningful anti-terrorism bill this year," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.
Although most of the tougher anti-terrorism items were deleted from the House bill, it still contains some major provisions to fight crime and discourage terrorism, including:
Authority to deport aliens convicted of crimes in the United States.
A ban on the import of nuclear materials that could be used to build weapons.
A requirement that identification markers, called "taggants," be included in plastic explosives made or imported into the United States.
Restitution to victims of federal crimes.
Authority for U.S. citizens to sue for damages foreign countries designated as sponsors of terrorism. …