- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Thomas responds

Rep. Bill Thomas, California Republican, has responded to the Bakersfield Californian, which suggested in a news story Sunday that Mr. Thomas was having an improper relationship with a lobbyist representing health care providers.
The article, by Vic Pollard of the newspaper's Sacramento bureau, said that "consumer and ethics watchdogs" were concerned that Mr. Thomas' relationship with lobbyist Deborah Steelman "raises serious conflict-of-interest questions because her clients have a major stake in Thomas' work" on a bill to provide prescription drug benefits for Medicare recipients.
Mr. Thomas, who is married, is chairman of a House Ways and Means subcommittee on health, in addition to being chairman of the Rules Committee.
In an "open letter to my friends and neighbors" yesterday, Mr. Thomas said he had "never sacrificed your interest for anything that would put me anywhere near a conflict of interest dilemma. I have never let anyone substitute their judgment on public policy for mine."
The congressman added: "Any personal failures of commitment or responsibility to my wife, family, or friends are just that, personal."
The news article cited only anonymous sources who said they had learned about Mr. Thomas' close relationship with the lobbyist through private conversations with the congressman's chief of staff.

Lazio cites gas prices

Republican Rick Lazio attacked Senate rival Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Clinton yesterday for not doing more to fight rising gasoline prices.
Using a suburban Buffalo service station as a backdrop, Mr. Lazio said the first lady should "get out of the motorcade, check the prices at the pump and join me today in fighting for the repeal of the Clinton-Gore gas tax to help get these gas prices down for New Yorkers."
He called for the permanent repeal of a 4.3-cents per gallon gas-tax increase introduced in 1993 by the president. He also said the federal 18.3-cent gas tax should be suspended for six months, Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries nations should be pressured to increase production, and the nation's strategic petroleum reserve should be opened immediately.
"New Yorkers are being gouged at the pump," the Long Island congressman said.
The Clinton campaign countered by saying that Mr. Lazio missed a recent vote that could have helped lower fuel oil prices in New York. On June 15, the House voted 195-193 to reject an amendment that would have created a 2 million barrel home heating oil reserve for the Northeast.
Mrs. Clinton herself went after Mr. Lazio at a campaign stop in New York City, the Associated Press reports.
"Months and months ago, I advocated a Northeastern oil reserve that I thought would be helpful in helping to lower the cost of home heating oil here in New York," she said. "We could have passed that. He missed that vote."
Mr. Lazio missed the House vote so he could catch a flight back to New York to keep to his campaign schedule the next day.

Parrying Hillary

"Representative Rick Lazio's chances to become Senator Rick Lazio rose quite a bit with last week's exchange of Hillary attacks and his effective rebuttals. Having learned from Bill Bradley's and John McCain's failure to answer their opponent's attacks, Lazio seems to be handling Hillary just right in the early going," Dick Morris writes in the New York Post.
"Until the first negative ads fly, a campaign really hasn't started. Once they do air, the most important question is: How well does the candidate parry his opponent's jabs and counterpunch? Lazio ads show he's got the formula just right," Mr. Morris said.
He added: "If Lazio can parry and counterpunch as Hillary throws negatives, he could really, really end up winning this race. So far, he's doing it quite nicely."

Bureaucrats' revenge

"The striking thing about the latest recommendation of an independent investigation of Al Gore and his Buddhist Temple hijinks is how quickly it leaked," Wall Street Journal editor Robert L. Bartley writes.
"Capitol Hill sources report that the attorney general 'visibly perturbed over the premature disclosure,' as the AP described her at her weekly briefing Friday is ordering an internal investigation of the leak," Mr. Bartley noted.
"So the indomitable Ms. Reno will strap a polygraph around Robert J. Conrad Jr., who brought her the same bad news the third time around as the latest head of her own campaign finance investigation. The leak aside, Mr. Conrad's recommendation was a show of courage, given the fate of the two previous messengers. His predecessor, Charles LaBella, was pretty much hounded out of the department. FBI Director Louis Freeh cannot be fired, but has had to endure a lot of badmouthing and petty harassment.
"Rather than pinpointing a culprit, Ms. Reno is likely to learn that the final year of an administration is when the bureaucrats you've been sitting on start to leak… ."

Dialing the Supremes

An obscure Pennsylvania cell-phone case that the Supreme Court accepted for review yesterday likely will resolve a festering partisan lawsuit between two high-ranking members of Congress.
To be decided next term is whether the First Amendment protects a person who discloses contents of an illegally taped cell-phone call, even though he did not personally intercept the call or encourage someone else to do so.
Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, sued Rep. Jim McDermott, Washington Democrat, over the Dec. 21, 1996, taping of a Republican strategy session that was somewhat daringly conducted via cell phone and included House leaders such as Speaker Newt Gingrich. At issue was a congressional ethics charge against Mr. Gingrich.
The conference call was taped by John and Alice Martin using a police scanner in Florida. The Martins later were fined for their actions, including giving a copy to Mr. McDermott, who passed it on to the New York Times and other newspapers.
The U.S. District Court here threw out the case, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reversed that order and reinstated the lawsuit.
Mr. Boehner appealed to the high court as a similar case from Wyoming, Pa., was being considered. In that case, teachers union negotiator Gloria Bartnicki was taped discussing contract strategy with her union president. A copy of their conversation was handed to Jack Yocum, head of a local taxpayers association, who turned it over to local talk show host Frederick Vopper, who used it on the air.
Like the D.C. trial court, the Pennsylvania district judge ruled that the First Amendment did not permit someone to be sued for releasing a tape containing material of "important public interest," even though the person doing so knew it was illegal to tape the call.

Bush leading

George W. Bush is widening his lead over Al Gore in polling among likely voters a little more than four months before the presidential election, new surveys suggest.
Mr. Bush was chosen by 52 percent of voters and Mr. Gore by 39 percent in a weekend telephone survey, according to a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll released yesterday.
The same poll taken the week of June 5 showed Mr. Bush, the Republican Texas governor, with 48 percent and Mr. Gore, the Democratic vice president, with 44 percent with the same margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. It was 49 percent to 42 percent for Mr. Bush in the same poll late last month, the Associated Press reports.
A Voter.com-Battleground poll last week had it 52 percent to 40 percent for Mr. Bush, up from a six-point margin in May.

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