Source: Reuters Website: http://www.reuters.com/ Pubdate: Sat, 2 May 1998 Author: Joanne Kenen, Reuters HOUSE REPUBLICANS VOW TO MAKE U.S. DRUG-FREE WASHINGTON - House Republicans Thursday unveiled a package of bills to combat drug abuse and vowed to make America virtually drug-free by 2002. At a packed rally in one of the most ornate Congressional hearing rooms, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other top Republicans unveiled several drug bills, some focusing on community-based drug programs, others seeking to stamp out drug production overseas and a third series aiming to hold anti-drug agency officials more accountable. Citing 14,000 deaths a year directly related to drugs and another 6,000 indirect deaths, Gingrich said if that level of casualties was happening in Bosnia, Iraq or Korea ``we would be up in arms.'' Instead, he said, ``people shrug their shoulders.'' Gingrich said drug use went down during the ``Just Say No'' years under Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush, and has risen under President Clinton. He called for an intense, four-year drive to lower drug use and said he had told House appropriators to make it their top priority. Before the Republican event, House Democrats said drug policy had traditionally been bipartisan and urged Gingrich to keep it that way. The Republican rally was not a bipartisan event, but was not a hard-edged partisan attack on Democrats either. ``I liked the tone,'' White House anti-drug chief Barry McCaffrey said in a telephone interview. ``We want to build bipartisan support for this effort,'' he said, adding he would examine the bills ``very carefully.'' Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who chaired the House Republican task force on drugs, said the country had ``veered off course'' in the 1990s and had to send out a clear message that ``we have zero tolerance for illegal drugs.'' ``Drugs are not an American value,'' he said. House Republicans have said they want to twin anti-drug and anti-teen smoking efforts, but most of the speakers at the rally did not mention tobacco and Gingrich mentioned it only briefly. House leaders say they still plan on incorporating an anti-smoking initiative into the drug bills, although the proposals unveiled Thursday did not deal with smoking.