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Gephardt: House needs cooperation

By BILL ADAIR

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 31, 2000


TAMPA -- For six years, Rep. Richard Gephardt has felt like an outsider in the House of Representatives.

He has been the leader of the House Democrats, but he says the Republicans who control the Congress have rarely tried to work with him. Since the GOP seized control in the 1994 election, Gephardt says, he has met with Republican leaders only about six times.

On Wednesday, Gephardt said he would have a more cooperative spirit with the Republicans if the Democrats win control of the House in the November election.

"I believe the House has to be run in a bipartisan way," Gephardt said in an interview with the St. Petersburg Times. "That means more communication between the leadership in both parties in the House and on the committees. It means more consensus building."

That would be a dramatic change from the partisan food fights of the past six years. Just one month ago, the Democrats stormed out of the chamber before a vote on a Medicare drug bill because the Republicans would not let them bring up a Democratic version.

"There is no reaching out, there's no willingness to try to put things together," Gephardt said. The Republican approach is "my way or the highway."

The Missouri Democrat was in Tampa to speak at a fundraiser for Mike Stedem, a Polk County car dealer who is running for the seat now held by retiring Rep. Charles Canady.

The Democrats can regain control of the House by winning at least six seats held by Republicans. If that happens, Gephardt is likely to become speaker.

In his speech at the Valencia Garden restaurant in downtown Tampa, Gephardt recalled the 1980s, before the Republicans took control, when Democratic Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. had a friendly relationship with the GOP.

"We had a personal relationship and that feeling of mutual respect was shared in the committees," he said.

He vowed that he would talk frequently with Republicans.

"I'll meet with them every day, once a week, whatever it takes," he said. "We'll talk about the schedule, talk about issues, see if we can reach agreement."

He promised he would not hold a grudge.

"If we win and I become speaker, there will not be revenge."

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