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Gibbons one of the top targets of Republicans in 1996 election

A top Republican strategist in Washington warns that Rep. Sam Gibbons is on a GOP hit list for 1996.

Ed Goeas, head of the Tarrance Group, says Gibbons is included in a group of 43 veteran Democrats Republicans will target in the next election.

"Out of the 43, 32 would be, at worst, even chances for the Republicans to pick up," Goeas says. "And Gibbons falls on both lists."

Gibbons, of Tampa, had a close call in 1994 and says he already has begun raising money to run in 1996 for an 18th term.

State Sen. Charlie Crist, a Republican, says he is considering a campaign against Gibbons, as is Mark Sharpe, who has lost twice to the venerable lawmaker.

MONEY, MONEY: Most of the debate last week on the balanced-budget plan followed a partisan script written months ago. Republicans hailed the new era of fiscal austerity while Democrats warned of dire consequences for society's neediest.

But Rep. C.W. Bill Young of Indian Rocks Beach offered a slightly different observation.

The good news, said the Republican who oversees defense spending, was that for the first time in 11 years the Pentagon budget will rise. The bad news, he said in a floor speech, is it's still not enough.

"There are a lot of things members would like to do in defense that we won't be able to do," he said. "The money's just not there."

MORE MONEY: Now that the budget blueprint has been approved, lawmakers begin haggling over how to make the math add up. And that means even the most conservative Republicans will be looking for dough.

Freshman Rep. Dave Weldon says he is asking for $150-million for a veterans hospital in East Central Florida. So far, the prospects look dim, since GOP leaders have indicated there won't be money for new VA construction.

"We might get enough for a clinic," said the Republican from Palm Bay. That would cost about $30-million.

FLAK ATTACK: Republican Dan Miller of Bradenton will be on spin patrol during Congress's recess this week as the GOP's communications guru on Medicare.

His job is to convince 37-million senior and disabled Americans that spending $270-billion less on Medicare in the next seven years won't hurt them.

Expect to hear Miller say that Medicare is going bankrupt and that it must be transformed to be saved _ something only Republicans are willing to face, he'll say.

Miller says that spending for Medicare will continue to increase, which is true, although the rate of growth will be capped at 6.4 percent a year. (It's more than 10 percent now.) He emphasizes that seniors should have a choice of medical plans and doctors, but his talking points don't mention that seniors will be moved into HMOs.

His "six principles" also don't mention that Medicare and Medicaid will bear the brunt of savings _ some 60 percent _ to balance the budget and dole out tax cuts.

CUTTING SPENDING: A task force appointed by House Speaker Newt Gingrich has come up with some of the most stringent proposals yet to curb illegal immigration.

A 200-page report delivered last week says babies born to illegal immigrants in the United States should no longer become American citizens automatically, as the Constitution guarantees. The American babies qualify for welfare even if their parents do not.

The task force also says states should be allowed to expel from school students who are in the country illegally.

Those recommendations go further than bills that have been introduced in the House and Senate. Gingrich thanked the 48-member task force, which included Rep. Karen Thurman, a Democrat from Dunnellon, but stopped short of endorsing its ideas.

SHORT TAKES: U.S. Sen. Bob Graham stages his 300th work day next week by loading and delivering groceries for Publix Super Markets in North Florida. The Florida Democrat began the work day device in 1974 to keep in touch with Floridians and has continued ever since. . . . The House has voted to eliminate money for the free copies of the U.S. Code that members of Congress get when they come to office. Freshman Republican Rep. Mark Foley of West Palm Beach campaigned for the cut when he learned that his colleagues could take the $2,500 set of books with them when they retire.

VERBATIM: "Paying an amount per day more that's roughly equal to the cost of a 7-Eleven "Big Gulp' does not seem an excessive burden." _ House Republican Leader Dick Armey, arguing that graduate students should repay more of their college aid while in school. He denied a Democrat's claim that he got student loans himself.

_ Times staff writers Ceci Connolly, Ellen Debenport, Jennifer S. Thomas and David Dahl contributed to this report.

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