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News Briefs, part 2

Espy Reimburses USDA For Jeep Lease Payments

The Washington Post

Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy had his department make lease payments on a Jeep Cherokee he kept at the Jackson, Miss., airport and sometimes used for personal transportation on his frequent trips to his home town.

Reid Weingarten, one of Espy's lawyers, said Monday he occasionally used the Jeep to "ferry his children around" as well as for official Agriculture Department business in Mississippi. The secretary recently reimbursed the department for about $6,200 in lease payments in order to clear up any appearance of ethical impropriety, Weingarten said.

"Legally, I don't think he had to," said Weingarten, but Espy "really does want to close down any possble appearance problem." Weingarten said the payment was made "recently" but could not pinpoint the date.

Independent counsel Donald Smaltz is reviewing Espy's acceptance of gifts and travel expenses from agricultural companies regulated by the department.

Travel records released Friday under the Freedom of Information Act show Espy has had his department pick up the tab for frequent travels to his home state.

Espy is often mentioned as a candidate for Senate or governor in Mississippi, and his children still live there. Under his divorce settlement, he has visitation rights two weekends a month. Espy has insisted that his travel to Mississippi has been for legitimate government business, not for personal or political reasons.

Senators Discuss Trimmed-down Health Care Legislation for '94

Los Angeles Times

Despite dwindling hopes for passage of any health care legislation this year, a bipartisan group of "mainstream" senators met Monday with Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, D-Maine, to discuss a trimmed-down bill for Congress to consider in the final weeks of this session.

Mitchell and Sen. John Chafee, R-R.I., said afterward they made progress but still had several difficult issues to resolve before introducing a last-resort measure in the Senate. They scheduled another meeting Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., however, said it would take a miracle to get any health care legislation through the Senate and House before Congress quits for the year in mid-October.

Even Sen. John Breaux, D-La., a leader of the mainstream group, quipped that it might be time to call in former President Carter at the 11th hour to try to salvage a health care bill just as Carter succeeded in last-minute negotiations in Haiti.

Mitchell's attempts to produce a compromise bill have been attacked from both the Republican right and the Democratic left. Some senators, such as Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, want to drop the subject of health care while others, such as Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., have argued against a compromise of basic principles just to get a bill passed this year.