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Washington Columm

GOP's holiday gag gifts don't go over well with Democrats

Times staff writers

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 19, 1999

In the true spirit of the holidays, the Republican National Committee raised money last week for the United Way by selling gag gifts sending up the leading Democratic presidential candidates, Al Gore and Bill Bradley.

Shoppers were invited to attend a one-day-only holiday gift sale at RNC headquarters where they browsed through items such as "I Invented the Internet"mousepads, fake Gore business cards, and "Bradley Speech Survival Kits," which contained a coffee mug with Bradley's picture and a packet of extra-caffeinated coffee beans.

According to RNC spokesman Mike Collins, the items sold out in half an hour and raised $580 for the United Way, "more than Al Gore gave to charity in all of 1997." The top three sellers were the $15 mousepads, the $10 speech survival kits and $15 baseball caps with an "Alpha male" logo that poked fun at Gore adviser Naomi Wolf.

Needless to say, the RNC's sale was not greeted with holiday cheer by Democrats. "We were surprised to hear they sold out yesterday," said Peter Kaufmann, deputy press secretary of the Democratic National Committee, "because we thought the Republicans sold out to special interests a while ago."

Bush plans to highlight admissions program

Florida's new admissions policy for higher education is likely to play a role in the 2000 presidential election debate, especially if Texas Gov. George Bush is the Republican nominee.

Bush adviser Karl Rove told reporters in Washington last week that the GOP candidate is planning to emphasize the success of the program he instituted in Texas and the plan his brother, Jeb, has devised in Florida for increasing minority admissions without using racial preferences.

"We'll be talking about that at the appropriate time," Rove said.

Jacksonville lawmaker not sure about fifth term

Jacksonville is abuzz with rumors that Rep. Tillie Fowler might retire, but her office says she hasn't decided if she'll seek a fifth term.

A retirement by the Jacksonville Republican would be a blow to Florida's clout in Congress because Fowler, the vice chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, is the highest ranking woman in the GOP leadership.

She has been under pressure by the group U.S. Term Limits to abide by her 1992 promise to serve only four terms. The group has run TV advertisements in Jacksonville urging her to retire.

Rumors about Fowler's retirement were fueled by a speculative story in the Jacksonville Financial News & Daily Record last week, but her office insisted Fowler hasn't decided. "The decision won't be made until the first week of January," spokeswoman Jana Novak said. "She hasn't made up her mind yet."

Medicare out-of-pocket expenses reach $2,000

Medicare recipients will pay about $2,430 in out-of-pocket health care expenses in 1999, according to AARP. On average, that amount is about 19 percent of income, the lobbying group for the elderly said in a study released last week.

The study will help the AARP brace for fights in Congress next year to overhaul the Medicare system and institute a prescription drug benefit for beneficiaries.

Lawmakers promise bills to curb medical mistakes

Congress is likely to consider legislation next year that would aim to reduce the number of deaths caused by medical errors. In response to an Institute of Medicine report that found that as many as 98,000 deaths are caused each year by medical mistakes, many lawmakers, including Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., said last week that they intend to introduce bills to address the issue.

The report on medical errors, released by the Institute in early December, has prompted quick response from lawmakers. Last week President Clinton proposed a series of initiatives to reduce the numbers of deaths due to medical errors and several other members of Congress have said they will hold hearings on the subject.

Among other things, the report found that medical mistakes account for more deaths each year than breast cancer, AIDS and highway accidents. The report said that changes in health care practices, such as computerizing prescription orders, could prevent mistakes in which the wrong type of drug is given to a patient.

-- Washington staff writers Bill Adair, Mary Jacoby, Vanita Gowda and Sara Fritz contributed to this column.

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