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© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2001

A little heart scare and they're speculating on VP replacements

One of the burning questions of the day in Washington is Dick Cheney's successor. Never mind that the vice president says he's fine. He has been hospitalized twice in three months for heart problems, enough for political junkies to start speculating about his replacement:

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge? The Vietnam veteran was a strong contender during last year's veepstakes. But religious conservatives vetoed him because he supports abortion rights. There's no reason to think they've had a change of heart.

Ex-Rep. John Kasich? House Republicans have a soft spot for the former Budget Committee chairman. But the Ohio Republican, who endorsed Bush after folding up his little-noticed campaign for president last year, is not on anyone else's radar.

Secretary of State Colin Powell? Bingo! Already the highest-ranking African-American government official in history, Powell and the Republican Party would make history again if the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman became VP.

Powell has always resisted entreaties to run for president or vice president. But he might change his mind if he were simply elevated without having to endure the rigors of campaigning.

Because of his potential to draw African-Americans to the GOP, Powell is the Democrats' worst nightmare. They are no doubt praying that Cheney holds on.

Joe, have I got a deal for you

Speaking of the vice president . . . He and his wife, Lynne, have sold their two-story town house in suburban Virginia for $690,000 to Joe Allbaugh, the new head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The deal went through on Monday, the day Cheney was hospitalized and had angioplasty after complaining of chest pains.

The Cheneys paid $450,000 for the three-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath home in McLean, Va., about 14 years ago. On March 2, they moved into the official vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory.

The Cheneys bought a $1.35-million estate in McLean in January 2000 and filed plans for a 21,764-square-foot home. Also last year, they sold a multimillion dollar property in Dallas. They own a house, valued at $2.9-million, in a gated neighborhood in Teton County, Wyo., that features an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.

Allbaugh, chief of staff while Bush was Texas governor, is moving with his family from Austin.

If they don't play nice, we're not going

House members are in West Virginia this weekend for their annual bipartisan "civility retreat."

They've been taking these retreats since 1996, when the parties were at war with each other after the 1994 GOP takeover of the House and rise of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

But this year may be their last attempt at harmony, according to Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. The Missouri Democrat sounded weary and cynical when asked last week why Democrats were attending.

"Well, we've signed up for it. Hope springs eternal," said Gephardt, who is still sore that Republicans pushed President Bush's tax-reduction plan through the House last week. Democrats had objected that Congress should finish work on the fiscal 2002 federal budget before approving a tax cut.

"I made it clear this is my last time for a bipartisan retreat. I don't want to be bipartisan in West Virginia. I want to be bipartisan in this building," Gephardt said. Of the civility retreats, he added: "Been there, done that. All I got was this T-shirt."

Union says cut dole to ex-presidents

The National Taxpayers Union is supporting a congressional review of taxpayer-financed perks for ex-presidents.

In a letter last week to Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees White House spending, the union said Secret Service protection costs should be reviewed. For security reasons, the Secret Service does not disclose its costs, but the union estimated the government spends $20-million a year to protect ex-presidents and their families.

Former President Clinton and previous presidents now get Secret Service protection for life, although a new law limits it to 10 years for President Bush and his successors.

Other suggestions from the taxpayers group:

Reduce presidential pensions from the current $161,200 annually and wait until ex-presidents reach Social Security retirement age to pay it.

Set a four-year cap on ex-presidents' perks, such as taxpayer-financed offices. Let the State Department pick up expenses for "goodwill ambassador" trips abroad.

Audit the $43-million in taxpayer funds that will be spent this year to operate presidential libraries and collections.

-- Staff writer Mary Jacoby contributed to this column, which also includes information from the Associated Press.

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