Inside Report: Florida retribution

Posted: Mar 24, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Florida Republican leaders, still smarting from aggressive assaults by two Democratic congressmen during the state's presidential vote recount, Reps. Robert Wexler and Peter Deutsch, are preparing to eliminate one of them. Although the state gains two more House seats as a result of the 2000 census, GOP legislative leaders intend to put Wexler and Deutsch in the same South Florida congressional district. A footnote: Republican Florida House Speaker Tom Feeney, who infuriated Democrats during the recount, intends to carve out a congressional district for himself. Ginny Brown-Waite, Republican president pro tem of the State Senate, also would like her own congressional seat. DISSING THE AMA Selecting the American College of Cardiologists meeting in Orlando, Fla., last Wednesday as the site for President Bush's health care speech was an unmistakable slap at the American Medical Association (AMA). Presidents and other prominent figures usually save major health statements for AMA conventions. But the once solidly conservative doctors' organization has moved steadily to the left in recent years. Its alliance with trial lawyers in lobbying for unfettered rights to sue HMOs collides head-on with Bush's policy. A footnote: Bush's rebuke to the AMA coincides with the White House downgrading the status of the American Bar Association (ABA). The liberal-dominated lawyers group no longer will have the profession's exclusive veto power over selection of federal judges. THE THURMOND WATCH The physical vigor of Sen. Strom Thurmond, 98-year-old dean of the Senate, has rallied sharply. That confirms predictions by close friends that the health of the oldest senator ever would improve as the weather became warmer. Noting Thurmond's trips in and out of the hospital during the early weeks of the year, senators of both parties had wondered out loud whether he could finish his term through its completion next year. A vacancy in the South Carolina seat would be filled by an appointment made by Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges, who surely would pick a Democrat and break the Senate's 50-50 Republican-Democratic tie. A footnote: Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott has criticized "ghoulish" speculation about Thurmond's demise. Lott says nobody can predict who will live and who will die, noting that apparently healthy Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia died last year at age 61. HELMS IN '02? Sen. Jesse Helms, contradicting "repeated and contrived rumors of various health problems and wishful thinking by the liberal media," has mailed supporters a letter asking them whether he should run for a sixth term in 2002. He asserted that his wife, Dot, and he "feel better than we have in years," adding: "Dot Helms and I are blessed that we have been restored to good health." Helms conceded that when he was re-elected, he "assumed (planned) that it would be the last time we would burden friends like you." But with the Senate now divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, Helms went on, "George W. Bush must have conservatives standing with him ready to help clean up the mess created by eight Clinton years." The March 7 letter is written as though Helms expected a "yes" answer. Recipients who responded by sending in a campaign contribution received a thank-you note in return from the Helms for Senate Committee's treasurer. BUSH'S SOCIAL SECURITY Candidate George W. Bush's proposal to begin privatizing the Social Security system was dropping from the new administration's agenda until it was restored by one true believer: President George W. Bush. As governor of Texas, Bush became intrigued with the idea of voluntarily devoting 2 percentage points from the Social Security payroll tax to private investment accounts. He originally thought such a reform would be suicidal politically, but changed his mind and included it in his 2000 campaign. With Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and the administration's other economic policymakers less than enthusiastic, the campaign proposal seemed to be drifting off the table. But the president himself insisted that Social Security reform must follow passage of tax reduction.