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House Republicans worry about losing control

By Bob Franken/CNN

October 8, 1999
Web posted at: 6:08 p.m. EDT (2208 GMT)

WASHINGTON -- The GOP leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives lost 68 of their fellow Republicans in Thursday's HMO reform vote. Many in the party worry they're on their way to losing control of the House in the 2000 election.

"There's a credibility gap that particularly these House Republicans have got to pay attention to," said Republican pollster Frank Luntz.

Luntz has been warning for months the Republican's 223-211-1 majority is in danger.

"I think there is a real problem and I see it in the polling and focus groups I'm going right now. The Republicans in Congress don't seem to be connecting with the American people," Luntz added.

All year long, the big news from Capitol Hill has been the Democratic minority's agenda.

In June it was gun control

"America, the NRA and Charlton Heston are writing your gun laws," Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Florida) said on June 18.

In September it was campaign finance reform.

"Republican leaders put the needs of powerful lobbyists ahead of average families and their needs," House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) said on September 13.

And now it is managed care reform.

The big Republican issue, the massive tax cut, fizzled.

Still, the man in charge of keeping the Republican-controlled House Republican controlled, Rep. Tom Davis the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, warns critics to wait until next year.

"I think it crystallizes once we get a presidential candidate because then you have one messenger and you have one message at that point... right now you don't have that," said Davis.

He believes Republicans in Congress will get a big ride on the coattails of GOP presidential front-runner Texas Gov. George W. Bush -- even though Bush has been critical of them.

But there is also criticism from the rank-and-file.

"Too little, too late" said one, complaining about the lack of leadership on managed care.

GOP leadership sources say it was their intention to get these volatile issue out of the way before the 2000 campaign.

But the negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate managed care bills won't happen until next year.

And Democrats will be pounding away.

"Now we're very concerned that as we move forward the special interest that have dominated the leadership in the Republican Party will try to change this bill and load it up with legislative poison pills," said White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.

Next there's the upcoming confrontation over the budget. Many Republicans in Congress are rattled.

"I fear," said one, adding that they may have to eat a lot of crow Bill Clinton sticks down their throats.


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Friday, October 8, 1999






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