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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, and Alex Hahn of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.



Does Pete Have The Itch?: A Field poll out last week showed Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., leading her potential GOP rivals in 2004 but having some real vulnerabilities. Forty-three percent of California voters said they would vote against her for re-election, and the Republican who is running best in the poll was former governor and U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson.

In various trial heats, Boxer held wide leads over last year's gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon and other GOP Senate hopefuls. But against Wilson her lead was only 3 points - Boxer at 46 percent and Wilson at 43 percent - which has fueled speculation about Wilson getting back in the fray. "He's honored by the attention," says Wilson's former spokesman Sean Walsh, "but her hasn't made any decision."

The San Francisco Chronicle, however, says that Wilson would "carry a lot of baggage" if he ran for the Senate, and some observers say they are not sure how much he wants to go back to Washington. "My guess is that (Wilson) would like to run a campaign again, but I don't think he'd like to go back to the Senate again," said California GOP consultant Ken Khachigian.

California Democrats are already grinding up the opposition research. "Will the Republicans want Pete Wilson, the real author of Enron's deregulation scam on California and America's No. 1 Latino basher to run for the Senate?" asked California Democratic Party chair Bob Mulholland. Wilson alienated Latino voters by his support of Prop 187, which would have eliminated state services for illegal immigrants. It helped win him the election in 1994, but caused the California Republican Party some long-term problems with this growing constituency.

Wilson's former aides have been floating his name for the past week but a final decision doesn't have to be made until December. His friends told the Chronicle that he wouldn't run unless the White House and Republican donors are 100 percent behind him. But he is intrugued by the chance to rewrite the "immigration chapter of his legacy" and compare records with the very liberal Boxer.

Well, It's Not Delta House: It's not unusual to find members of Congress sharing apartments or townhouses in or around Washington these days, except when the residence is actually owned and run by a secretive religious organization. The Associated Press reports that the "Fellowship" - also known as the "Foundation" - is a group subsidizing the living quarters of six lawmakers who are residing in a grand red brick three-story home on C Street.

Reps. Zack Wamp, R-Tenn., Bart Stupak, D-Mich., Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; and Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., all share a $1.1 million home just two blocks from the Capitol. The residents, all of whom are Christian, agreed to live in private upstairs rooms at the home while receptions, luncheons and prayer meetings are held on the first two floors.

The rent is low, only $600 a month, but the tenants must dine together once a week in order to discuss religion in their daily lives. The Fellowship encourages bringing together elected officials as well as world leaders through religion.

"We do have a Bible study. Somebody'll share a verse or a thought, but mostly it's more of an accountability group to talk about things that are going on in our lives, and how we're dealing with them," DeMint explained.

Interestingly, very few in the Fellowship are willing to fully discuss the mission. "We feel like it's nobody's business but our own," said former Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., who lived in the house last year.

Groups concerned about the separation of church and state have balked at this arrangement and the lack of public information about the Fellowship. The Rev. Barry Lynn, a United Church of Christ minister who runs Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said, "What concerns people is when you mix religion, political power and secrecy."

A member of the Fellowship's board of directors, Richard Carver, said that the organization does not seek to improperly influence its C Street tenants. Rather, the group hopes to "assist them in better understanding of the teachings of Christ, and applying it to their jobs."

Gephardt's Health Care Gamble: Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., plans to unveil his ambitious health care plan in New York on Wednesday. The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein previewed the plan, which would provide health insurance to many of the 41.2 million uninsured Americans, and determined that it could "make or break" Gephardt's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Gephardt's plan would create a federal tax credit for companies that would cover 60 percent of their employee insurance premiums. Currently, companies are allowed to deduct 30 percent of their premium costs from their taxes. The new tax credit could be a boon for companies and is likely to please labor unions as well, since employers would be barred from increasing the amount employees currently contribute. [Companies that do not currently offer health benefits to employees would do even better under Gephardt's plan: the federal government would pay 60 percent and employees would pay the rest. The government would subsidize payments for lower-income workers.]

The L.A. Times reports that Gephardt's plan would also allow people 55 and over to buy into the Medicare system, give subsidies to unemployed workers for health insurance, and allow lower-income parents to join a federal-state program that pays for children's health care.

Gephardt's plan, of course, will cost a bundle – estimates run as high as $200 billion annually. Some of the costs would be defrayed by eliminating the current deduction, which costs the government about $80 billion annually in tax revenue. The rest would come from the elimination of wide swaths of President Bush's 2001 tax cut.

As Brownstein reports, the plan is so bold and expensive that it leaves almost no money for changes in education policy, deficit reduction or any other hot-button issues. "This is the one big bullet in his gun," he writes.

Political Week Ahead:
Here's what else is on tap this week in the political world:

Mon. 4/21 – Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., visits New Hampshire.

Mon. 4/21 – Former Colorado Sen. Gary Hart visits University of New Mexico School of Law in Albuquerque to discuss the war with Iraq.

Mon. 4/21-4/23 – Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., holds closed-press fundraisers in Tallahassee, Panama City and Pensacola. Also meets with state legislators in Tallahassee.

Tues. 4/22-23 – Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., campaigns in San Francisco Bay area and celebrates Earth Day with students at UCLA.

Tues. 4/22 - Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., attends Derry, N.H., Democratic Committee dinner.

Tues. 4/22 – Hart campaigns in Phoenix.

Wed. 4/23 – Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., makes major health care policy
speech in New York City.

Wed. 4/23 – Hart speaks to the Foreign Policy Association in New York
about homeland security. In the evening, Hart speaks at NYU on "A Vision for America."

Thurs. 4/24 – President Bush visits Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio.

Thurs. 4/24 – Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean at U.S. Conference of Black Mayors in Houston.

Thurs. 4/24 – Hart campaigns in Portland, Ore., including speech at Lewis
& Clark College and the World Affairs Council of Oregon.

Thurs. 4/24 – White House adviser Karl Rove attends fundraiser for North Carolina GOP Senate candidate Richard Burr.

Fri. 4/25-4/27 – Dean in Davenport and Clinton, Iowa on Friday, in
Fairfield and Peosta on Saturday and in Decorah, New Hampton and Charles City on Sunday.

Sat. 4/26-4/27 – Edwards hosts Cheshire County, N.H., spaghetti dinner on Saturday, then campaigns in western New Hampshire on Sunday.

Sat. 4/25 - Kerry attends Carroll County Democrats Grover Cleveland dinner in North Conway, N.H.

Sat. 4/26 – Hart speaks to University of San Diego.

Sat. 4/26 – North Carolina J-J Dinner.

Sat. 4/26 - Dean marks anniversary of the passage of the Civil Union Act with a fundraising party in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Sun. 4/27 – Dean fundraises in Minneapolis.

Quote of the Day: "I'm not here to justify polygamy. ... All I can say is, I know people in Hildale who are polygamists who are very fine people." - Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, at a meeting with anti-polygamy activists last week. (AP via National Journal's Wake-Up Call!)

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