The House Thursday began considering three dozen amendments to a $2 billion anti-drug bill, including a proposal to use the "ultimate weapon" - the federal death penalty - against drug killers.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, D-N.Y., an opponent of capital punishment, said he will offer an alternative plan to require mandatory life imprisonment for anyone convicted of murder during a drug-related felony.Rangel's proposal is expected to pass. But under a parliamentary procedure approved for the drug bill, subsequent passage of the death penalty amendment would supercede the life imprisonment provision.
Rep. George Gekas, R-Pa., predicted overwhelming approval for his capital punishment amendment, which he referred to as the "ultimate weapon" against drug dealers.
A similar amendment by Gekas was added to an anti-drug bill two years ago by a 296-112 vote, but the provision was later dropped after the Senate refused to go along.
Prospects appear brighter for the death penalty this time, because the Senate voted 65-29 last June to allow capital punishment for drug dealers and "kingpins." The Senate has not yet begun consideration of its own drug bill.
Other controversial House amendments would: deny student loans and other federal benefits to convicted drug users, admit illegally seized evidence in court if police acted in "good faith" during a search, and withhold federal highway money from states that refuse to revoke or suspend drivers' licenses of convicted drug users.
As the House conducted a generally mild-mannered debate on the 375-page bill Wednesday, policemen-turned-lobbyists roamed through lawmakers' offices to present their views on a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchasers.
Rank-and-file officers supporting the waiting period are part of a coalition of law enforcement organizations and gun control groups. The coalition has set up shop in a House Judiciary Committee basement hearing room in the Rayburn Office Building across the street from the Capitol.
Other policemen are lobbying for the National Rifle Association, which opposes the waiting period and virtually any form of gun control that affects the general population.
Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., will try to eliminate the waiting period. His amendment would substitute an identification system that would allow gun dealers to check by telephone or other means to determine whether a purchaser is a convicted felon.