Inside Report: Nervous Senators

Robert Novak

9/23/2000 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Republican senators facing re-election killed an appropriations bill not because they oppose a salary increase for them contained in the bill, but because they don't want to pass it without also raising the minimum wage. Minimum wage legislation, tied to tax benefits for employers, was not yet ready when the congressional pay hike came up Wednesday. The senators seeking another term did not want to go home this weekend and explain how they pushed their own annual pay from $141,300 to $145,100 while not boosting the $5.15 per-hour minimum wage. The bill failed, 69 to 28. Actually, congressional support for getting more money is bipartisan and overwhelming. Both their own pay hike and the minimum wage boost are considered certain to pass before this Congress adjourns. PICKING THE MODERATOR Although Jim Lehrer of PBS was described as the uncontested choice of each campaign to moderate all three presidential debates, representatives of Al Gore and George W. Bush both engaged in some game-playing. Bush agents were determined to make Lehrer the sole moderator for all debates, as he was in 1996. But Gore's team responded by suggesting Lehrer's colleague at PBS, Gwen Ifill. Bush agents then proposed NBC's Tim Russert, and both sides settled on Lehrer. Democratic politicians admit Gore was embarrassed by the well-prepared Russert on "Meet the Press" July 16, the last weekend interview program in which the vice president participated. According to Bush sources, Gore negotiators suggested flipping a coin between Lehrer and Ifill, but agreed on Lehrer when the Bush camp countered with a coin flip between Ifill and Russert. Gore sources deny they ever proposed picking the moderator with a coin. CLINTON'S POSTURE President Clinton's first reaction was positive when Republicans proposed that 90 percent of this year's budget surplus be devoted to national debt reduction, but he was quickly pulled into opposition by his economic lieutenants. At the Sept. 12 White House meeting between the president and congressional leaders, Clinton said of the debt reduction idea: "I'd like to take a look at this." Three advisers -- Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Budget Director Jack Lew and National Economic Adviser Gene Sperling -- all blanched. Summers forcefully stated his objections, and Clinton later announced his opposition. The 90 percent plan would curtail this year's Democratic spending plans. Accordingly, skeptics believe that Clinton was just playing the "good cop" in the old "good cop-bad cop" routine. But Republicans present at the White House meeting believe the president was sincere. GEPHARDT IN TROUBLE? House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt's $2.8 million war chest is intended to help elect Democrats nationwide to make himself Speaker of the House, but he has dipped into the funds for 30-second television ads in his St. Louis suburban district. That indicates that Gephardt takes seriously the challenge by realtor William Federer, who in 1998 held Gephardt to his lowest share of the vote since 1990 (55.8 percent). Nevertheless, GOP Republican operatives feel Federer is a long shot indeed. A footnote: Federal District Judge James Parker's denunciation from the bench of the government in the Wen Ho Lee security case may help embattled Republican Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico. Her Democratic opponent, John Kelly, was assailed by Parker for his handling of the case as U.S. attorney. Kelly is an old friend of President Clinton and was appointed by him in 1993. GOP BLUNDERS The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has forced withdrawal of several inaccurate Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee TV ads, has had three of its own pulled because of faulty information. The worst was in Florida's 8th district, whose incumbent Republican Rep. Bill McCollum is running for the Senate. It accused the front-running Democratic candidate Linda Chapin of allowing prisoners to watch cable television premium channels during her tenure as Orange County board chairman. In fact, Chapin revoked the service for inmates. Also including inaccurate information and forced to be withdrawn were GOP ads in two other non-incumbent districts: New Jersey 7th (Republican Bob Franks is running for the Senate) and West Virginia 2nd (Democrat Bob Wise is running for governor).