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Florida lawmakers: What budget deficit?

The Concord Coalition has published a score card on federal lawmakers' efforts to trim the deficit, and decided that Florida's congressional delegation could stand to make a few more tough decisions.

The coalition, a bipartisan grass-roots group focused on the federal budget deficit, rated Florida's delegation lower than the congressional average on votes that affected the deficit. "Conspicuous for its extremes," was coalition state director Bob Griffin's judgment of the delegation.

"Representatives ranked as low as the 1 percentile (Miami Democrat Carrie Meek) and as high as the 89 percentile in fiscal responsibility," Griffin said. "Frankly, the results are disappointing," co-chair Paul Tsongas, the former senator and presidential aspirant, said of the overall findings. "In 1992, most of the people in Congress gave a lot of lip service to deficit reduction, but when it came time to make tough calls, many legislators ran for cover."

Counting just 14 House votes and 20 votes in the Senate, the coalition computation is more tightly focused than a Congressional Quarterly survey published late last year.

The survey by CQ, an affiliate of the Times, was criticized even by its editors for focusing only on spending cuts without taking into account perhaps equally difficult votes to, say, raise taxes.

Overall, the Florida delegation placed in the 42nd percentile, compared to a national average of 46 percent. The higher the score, the better the lawmaker in the eyes of the coalition.

Republican Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who represents much of Pinellas County, ranked sixth among Floridians in the CQ survey but tops in the Concord Coalition's analysis of the delegation.

Oddly enough, Young is an appropriations committee member who steers millions of dollars in projects to the area, but this analysis ranked in the top 89 percent of House members on votes the coalition described as crucial to cutting the deficit.

Florida senators Bob Graham, a Democrat, and Connie Mack, a Republican, ranked above the average Senate score.

Graham scored 63 percent, high enough to place him eighth on the top 10 Senate Honor Roll for Democrats. Mack's 77 percent was higher, but not high enough to make the GOP top 10.

Among House members, Rep. Dan Miller, R-Bradenton, ranked second in the delegation, with 82 percent. Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor, scored 69 percent; Rep. Charles Canady, R-Lakeland, 50 percent; Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, 39 percent; and Rep. Sam Gibbons, D-Tampa, 19 percent.

YOUNG CORRECTS FIRST LADY ON HIS VOTING RECORD: Young and some of his colleagues are fuming at Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The first lady recently said opponents of her husband's health care reform plan are "against government financing of basic research."

That's not so, say Young and three GOP colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee, who wrote last week to Mrs. Clinton to complain.

Young and his colleagues pointed out that they oppose the Clinton health plan, but they've been at the forefront of increasing spending for biomedical research financing. The lawmakers noted that they fought Clinton's proposed cut in the National Institutes of Health budget last year. They argue, too, that Clinton is asking for less research money than previous presidents.

"President Clinton's requests to Congress for NIH funding are quite low and indicate, in our opinion, a lack of vision for the future of medical research," they wrote.

BABBITT LOSING FRIENDS OVER EVERGLADES ISSUE: Was there a whiff of relief amid the support Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt offered Gov. Lawton Chiles' plan to address the Everglades cleanup through state regulation?

"There is simply no way that the sugar industry is going to avoid its cleanup responsibilities under the approach Gov. Chiles has outlined," Babbitt said in a statement.

Babbitt's once-celebrated effort to restore the Everglades ended with deadlock and recriminations. Sugar producers are still mad, and one of the environmental groups that once told President Clinton that Babbitt was too valuable a steward to be named to the high court now has produced a bumper sticker: "Babbitt for the Supreme Court."

NO KISS FOR GRAHAM: One night after kissing Roseanne Barr on ABC, Mariel Hemingway was sidling up to Bob Graham in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Hemingway was the lure at a special screening of Desperately Seeking Sanctuary, a National Audubon Society special that airs at 10 tonight on the TBS cable channel. In the program, Hemingway's tour of the National Wildlife Refuge System includes a stop at the Crystal River refuge, where she cuddles the manatees.

But it was hands off the Florida Democrat. "They had a very friendly, but not too friendly meeting," said a Graham spokeswoman.

_ Times Staff Writers Barrie Lynn Tapia, Karl Vick and David Dahl contributed to this report.

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