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Foley Urged to Step Down; Young Senator Will Bow Out

By William J. Eaton
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

A veteran Democratic House member called publicly Thursday for Rep. Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) to step down as speaker this year, and one of the Senate's most highly regarded freshmen decided to end his congressional career as frustration and pessimism reached remarkable levels on Capitol Hill.

With House members doomed by the House bank scandal being joined by those simply choosing to give up, the exodus of members preparing to leave their seats began to swell to a crowd.

Six senators now plan to depart voluntarily, while a seventh -- Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.) -- was recently defeated in his bid for re-election. In the House, five members decided just this week not to seek re-election, bringing the total retirements to 30 for the year.

The expressions of disgust and disappointment of those leaving mixed with the anger of those fighting to stay to feed an atmosphere darker than any in recent memory.

"We're absolutely in gridlock and it's frustrating," complained one Republican, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio.

Said 34-year House veteran Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) "I've never seen partisanship the way we've seen it today, almost to the point of nausea."

Five-term Democrat John Bryant of Texas escalated the tension by publicly declaring what some other colleagues have been grumbling -- that Speaker Foley should face up to the disaster around him and give up his leadership post at the end of this congressional session.

"For him, political leadership is painful, and political combat, even when absolutely necessary in order to present the nation with the Democratic alternative, is to be avoided, if at all possible," Bryant said.

In a reference to the turmoil in the House bank and post office, he added, "For Speaker Foley, even management of the daily institutional operation of the House is an annoyance, making decisive management impossible."

Bryant's move appeared unlikely to trigger any immediate action to oust the speaker this year, and Foley himself told a reporter he intended to run for another two-year term as leader in the next Congress.

But it placed the senior, personally popular Democrat under much greater pressure and further raised the spectre of an institution at war with itself.

Foley had been under fire from Republicans but had escaped public ridicule from members of his own party. This week, in addition to the new public slap, several of Foley's lieutenants in the Democratic hierarchy complained that the speaker's failure to crack down last fall on the casually-run House bank had exposed them all to strong voter resentment.

More stunning than Bryant's blast was the announcement by 44-year-old Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) that he would leave the Senate at the end of his first term.

A former North Dakota tax commissioner who pressed for fiscal responsibility and eschewed some of the House's more partisan feuds, he was seen by colleagues as a member with a bright future in the Senate's new generation.

Friday, Conrad said that he felt he was getting little accomplished and should give up.

"The budget deficit is completely out of control," he said, noting that he had promised his constituents he would work to reduce it. "There is only one right course. ..."

Only last week, one of the Senate's most distinguished Republican leaders, Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, expressed similar frustration about congressional inertia in saying he would not seek re-election to a third six-year term.

In the House, confusion and bitterness have been reflected in the resounding defeat of several measures pushed by the leadership, including a proposal to shift billions of dollars in defense savings into domestic programs.

Congress has also failed to pass comprehensive bank reform legislation, a tax-cut program that President Bush would sign and has lost every veto battle it has fought with the White House, leaving virtual paralysis on some issues.