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WASINGTON INSIGHT

From The Times Washington Bureau

BALANCING ACT: As a Senate vote on the balanced-budget amendment draws closer, so too does the head count. Supporters are within two votes of the 67 they need for the required two-thirds approval when the measure comes to a final vote, probably early next month. Three members remain undecided. The measure died in the Senate two years ago, but Republicans, who picked up two seats in the November elections, are pressing the issue with vigor. So far, all 55 GOP senators and 10 of the 45 Democrats favor the amendment, which would mandate a balanced budget by the year 2002 and require a three-fifths vote of both houses of Congress to run a deficit in any future year. The three holdouts are Democratic freshmen--Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Robert Torricelli of New Jersey and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. Their fence-sitting translates into unusually strong leverage for minority party lawmakers who’ve been in office just six weeks.

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VIRTUAL TRIP: For those who would like to keep up with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s around-the-world trip but dislike the idea of traveling on a Nixon-era 707, there is the new State Department home page. Officials say that callers at www.state.gov will get up-to-the-minute reports on Albright’s progress through Europe and Asia. Want something a little more personal? The department invites the public to send Albright e-mail, using the address: secretary@state.gov. Albright won’t actually read every message, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said. But she will get a summary and, in some cases, may choose to reply personally. For the rest, Burns said, “They will get a response from the State Department.”

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NEXT ANSWER: Asked frequently about her presidential aspirations for the year 2000, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman reflexively answers that she is preoccupied with running her state and winning reelection this year. She may need to work up another response. A new poll gives her nearly a 2-1 lead in the governor’s race over even her best-known potential rival, former Gov. James J. Florio. The poll by Quinnipiac College of Hamden, Conn., shows the first-term Republican incumbent favored by 58% of those polled, compared to 32% for Florio, and with a favorable rating of 52%. So prepare to see a lot more of this moderate whose position on abortion eliminated her as a presidential running mate for GOP nominee Bob Dole last year.

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CHECKING OUT: Sen. John Glenn’s congressional career appears headed for splashdown. Facing prospects of a tough 1998 reelection battle against well-financed Ohio Republican Gov. George Voinovich, Glenn, 75, has decided not to seek a fourth term, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, quoting Democratic Party sources. The Ohio Democrat, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit the Earth, had about one-fifth as much campaign funds on hand as Voinovich at this early date. Glenn’s departure will not be welcomed by his party, which had considered him the best hope for turning back a vigorous Republican challenge for the seat.

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BRIDGE TOO MANY: President Clinton has chattered on about building bridges to the next century. But now one of his senior appointees--one who knows his way around the English language--has apparently decided it’s time to move to a new trope. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, a part-time novelist and poet, stopped dead in congressional testimony last week before uttering the phrase: “I hate to use the metaphor,” he sighed, then urged House members to help “bridge the gap between where we are and where we ought to be.”


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