Seeking to take the initiative against illegal drugs, House Republicans pushed through legislation that would permanently ban federal funding for needle exchanges as they prepared a package of tough anti-drug measures.

"This is a very important turning point in the United States," House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Wednesday, urging Democrats to join in fixing what he considers the Clinton administration's faulty anti-drug policy.Gingrich, R-Ga., was to lead a GOP rally Thursday promoting an anti-drug agenda including more border guards, tougher penalties for some crimes and grants for small businesses fighting workplace drug use.

But Democrats accused their GOP counterparts of being more interested in scoring election-year political points than in fighting illegal drugs.