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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, Steve Chaggaris and Joanna Schubert of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.

That's Doctor Dean, Thank You: Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean unveiled his health care plan Tuesday in New York, calling the need for improving access to health care a "moral imperative" for the United States.

Dean, a former governor of Vermont and a doctor, said his plan will make it cheaper and easier for both families and small businesses to pay for health insurance. Dean also said his plan would penalize larger companies by taking away corporate tax breaks if they refuse to make it easier for employees to buy affordable health insurance, Reuters reports.

Health care has emerged in recent weeks as a major issue in the '04 campaign. Dean's proposal comes several weeks after one of his rivals, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, unveiled his ambitious plan for nearly universal health care, which he'd pay for by scrapping tax cuts passed since President Bush took office in 2001. [Dean dismissed Gephardt's proposal as "pie-in-the-sky."] And, on Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts plans to release his own health care plan.

Dean's plan would require that state and federal health programs, like Medicaid's CHIPs program, be expanded to insure Americans up to age 25 in households with up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line. It would also provide tax incentives for uninsured Americans to buy insurance. Additionally, small businesses' health plans would be organized by the federal government to save money.

Overall, Dean says his plan will cost about $88 billion annually – less than half the cost of Gephardt's proposal. Dean would scrap portions of the Bush tax cuts to "create a practical system giving every American an affordable way to purchase health insurance."

The AP reports that Dean's national plan mirrors Vermont's health care system, where 96 percent of the state's children and 91 percent of the adults are covered. Dean, who became governor in 1991, greatly expanded Vermont's health system, including raising the income levels under which Vermonters can qualify for state coverage.

Maybe They Should Ask Fitzgerald to Run After All: Another Illinois Republican has taken a pass on running for the U.S. Senate next year, despite pleas from national GOP-types.

Last week, former Gov. Jim Edgar announced he would not run for the seat currently held by GOP Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, who announced last month that he'll leave office at the end of his first term.

On Monday, State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka said she doesn't want to run for Fitzgerald's seat either. "I am not fond of Washington. I prefer to live in Illinois," the AP reports Topinka saying. "I have no desire to run, and I will not do so."

Illinois is short on GOP officials who weren't tied to the scandal-ridden former Gov. George Ryan, who, along with several aides, was investigated by federal authorities for trading drivers' licenses for bribes while he was secretary of state.

Not Such a Wise Move: West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, a Democrat, took a potentially damaging blow to his political career when he admitted to being "unfaithful to my family" on Monday. Wise's confession came after the Charleston Daily Mail contacted his press office with allegations of an affair with a state employee.

A divorce case filed by Philip Frye against Angela Mascia Frye, who is the director of European operations for the West Virginia Development Office, implicates Wise as the reason for the couple's split. Frye told the Charleston Daily Mail that his wife of seven years had been having an affair with the governor for months. "I had private detectives all over this thing. I've got pictures and documents — all kinds of hard evidence," Frye said.

Frye referred to Wise as a "little weasel-faced bastard" and a "typical Democrat," but he will not release the details of his allegations because he hopes to sell his story, the Daily Mail reports. Frye's attorney, Joe Cometti, told the Charleston Gazette that the Daily Mail reporter made up those quotes, including Frye's suggestion that he had "hard evidence" of an affair between Wise and his wife.

However, Wise has not denied any of the accusations. He issued a statement in which he said, "I apologize deeply to the people of our state for my actions. In my private life, I have let many people down."

West Virginia voters may take Wise's personal scandal into consideration in the 2004 election, but Democratic Party Chairman Mike Callaghan expressed his confidence in Wise's performance. "Whatever the repercussions there are from this, we'll have to deal with them and move forward, Callaghan said. "At this stage, I like to look at programs and results. The governor has provided very strong leadership for West Virginia."

Technical Difficulties: So much for the Senate moving forward on its $350 billion tax cut plan today.

It was discovered yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee, in a procedural error, sent the wrong bill to the floor, prompting committee Democrats to force Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to correct the committee's mistake. Therefore, Majority Leader Bill Frist's plan to forge ahead with debate on the bill is delayed for a day until the Finance Committee puts forth the proper bill.

Democrats promise not to attempt a delay during tonight's committee meeting, even though they could have helped brush aside the technical problem altogether by unanimously agreeing to proceed despite the mistake.

Ranking Democrat Kent Conrad, D-N.D., pointed out the mistake is going to cause a major timing problem for the Republicans, considering there are several bills they want to pass before leaving town for their Memorial Day recess next Friday. "They have created an awkward situation through their own mistakes," Conrad said, according to National Journal's CongressDaily.

Senate Republicans were hoping to start the 20 hours of debate on the bill today and finish debate by the end of the week. Now, they'd be lucky if they could finish by Friday, with some rumors having the Senate come in for a Saturday session to complete action on the bill.

CBS News Capitol Hill producer John Nolen points out, however, that a Saturday session is probably unlikely for two reasons: It will be hard for the GOP to justify a weekend session since it was their mistake that caused the delay; and probably more importantly, Frist has to be in Atlanta to deliver a commencement speech at the Morehouse School of Medicine on Saturday morning.

The 2004 Democratic Games: Most of the security costs for the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston will be on the government's tab since the event has been given "national special security" status. The AP reports that the U.S. Secret Service will direct the safety measures for the convention, costing millions of federal dollars.

Republican Gov. Mitt Romney asked the Bush administration for the security designation at the request of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. Romney said the measure would "ensure the highest level of coordination and cooperation among law enforcement agencies" to keep the Boston citizens and visitors safe during the convention, scheduled for the week of July 26, 2004.

Boston's $49.5 billion bid for the convention budgeted $10 million for security without the added federal funds. The U.S. Treasury contributed $250 million for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and $6 million for the 2002 Super Bowl in New Orleans security, both events with the same "national special security" designation.

Quote of the Day: "Head Start is a godsend for Mississippi … Some of those kids in it would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now." - Haley Barbour, Republican Mississippi gubernatorial candidate, on the merits of the Head Start program during a tour of the Sacred Heart School. (Memphis Commercial-Appeal)

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