- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 2, 2003

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole often jokes that he is "now the junior senator in my own family."
While that's true, his wife, Elizabeth H. Dole, North Carolina Republican, also will be among the most junior members of the Senate when she begins work Monday. She hopes, however, to use her long years of Washington experience to put herself near the top of the class.
High on her priority wish list is a constitutional amendment allowing a presidential line-item veto, military pay raises and a tobacco-growers buyout plan, said spokeswoman Mary Brown Brewer.
Miss Brewer said the senator-elect "wants to get the government out of the tobacco-buying business" and end the quotas the federal government sets for how much tobacco can be grown and what the price should be.
"We have to let the market decide the price," said Miss Brewer.
Mrs. Dole took to calling the Helms bill the "Dole Plan" on the campaign trail. It would use current tobacco-tax revenue to transfer billions to leaf growers over the next several years and ultimately wean them, and the government, off the system of price supports and quotas.
How well she'll be able to work on that issue one that has such broad appeal in her home state that it was also endorsed by her Democratic opponent in the November election, former Clinton administration Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles will depend on whether Mrs. Dole gets a seat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.
Last year, at least eight buyout bills submitted by tobacco-state legislators languished in Congress the most conspicuous being the one written by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, that garnered just one co-sponsor, the retiring centenarian Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican.
Even if Mrs. Dole doesn't get to work on a tobacco bill, she has already secured a coveted spot on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Mrs. Dole is expected to be a reliable ally of President Bush's hard-line approach to dealing with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Asked if Mrs. Dole supports America moving unilaterally to topple Saddam, her spokeswoman said only that the senator-elect "supports President Bush," who has indicated the United States will "lead a coalition" against Iraq, though he would likely act alone if necessary.
The seat on the Armed Services Committee will allow Mrs. Dole to serve the large constituency of military personnel in North Carolina, and press for a pay raise for the troops.
More than 60 percent of troops in Afghanistan come from bases in North Carolina, Miss Brewer said, and the new senator will work hard to keep those bases off the budget chopping block.
Mrs. Dole has spent 20 years in government, but this is her first elected office, having failed in a brief bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000. A former transportation secretary under President Reagan, Mrs. Dole is expected to work to funnel federal funds to her home state for infrastructure improvements, especially in rural areas.
"She talked a lot during the campaign about how North Carolina gets 90 cents back for every dollar sent to Washington for transportation," Miss Brewer said. "North Carolina needs infrastructure improvements, especially in the rural areas which don't have the infrastructure they need to expand their economies."
Mrs. Dole, president of the American Red Cross from 1991 to 1999, believes in extending tax credits to help make medicine more affordable as opposed to a flat government subsidy and in allowing small businesses to pool their resources to provide health insurance to their employees.
If given the opportunity, Mrs. Dole will also work to improve health care in historically underserved rural areas, her spokeswoman said.
"She wants to make sure every county in North Carolina has a community health center," Miss Brewer said. "They will cut down on emergency room visits and keep health care costs down by keeping people healthy."
One pet project of Mrs. Dole's is to resurrect the presidential line-item veto. Passed by the Republican Congress in 1996 and declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1998 Mrs. Dole will urge her colleagues to join a movement to enact a constitutional amendment authorizing the line-item veto.
As for her tobacco buyout plan, observers believe Senate passage of such a bill will depend on whether it gives the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate cigarettes, as Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, proposes.
The tobacco industry is divided over whether this is a good idea. R.J. Reynolds opposed FDA regulation, but Philip Morris is on board.
"We believe the two goals are inextricably linked," Mike Szymanczyk, the chief executive of Philip Morris, told a congressional panel in November.
Mrs. Dole, however, has made it clear that her buyout plan does not include FDA regulation of cigarettes.


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