Popularity on Capitol Hill chases after the fence-sitters BUDGET WATCH

August 04, 1993|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- "Dennis DeConcini's office, please hold. Dennis DeConcini's office, please hold."

Try saying that 100 times an hour.

That's the rate at which calls are pouring in for the Senate Democrat from constituents in Arizona, from lobbyists, from Republicans, from the White House.

Sitting on the fence through the latest round of negotiations over the president's economic program, the three-term senator has become just about the most popular guy in town.

His phone lines are in this state of gridlock from 8 in the morning till 8 at night. Reporters are running past Capitol guards to chase him down private hallways. And the White House is courting him with the budgetary equivalent of a dozen red roses, offering a reduction in the proposed tax increase on Social Security recipients in hopes of his affection.

Mr. DeConcini, for his part, was still playing hard to get.

And yesterday, like the Scarlett O'Hara of Capitol Hill, he told a group of reporters: "I haven't made up my mind. I'm going to make up my mind tomorrow."

With Sen. David L. Boren of Oklahoma turning against the package this week, the administration needs a "yes" vote from at least one of the six Senate Democrats who voted against the bill earlier this year.

Of this bunch, Mr. DeConcini, who was tarred in the savings and loan scandal and faces a tough re-election next year, has looked like the president's best prospect.

On Monday, the White House dispatched Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman to the Hill to meet with the senator in his office. Interior Secretary Bruce E. Babbitt, the former Arizona governor, has been out in the state beating the drum for Democratic support. And a whole grab bag of White House officials "from the president on down," said press secretary Bob Maynes, have been checking in periodically.

Yesterday, the senator was consumed with playing dodge 'em with reporters, sneaking out of a Senate lunch and into a secluded elevator to bypass the news media stakeout, and spent most of the day on the Senate floor managing a Treasury/Postal Service appropriations bill.

"He hasn't been dealing with it," said Mr. Maynes, of the budget debate.

The calls had been running about 50-50. But by yesterday, the "pro" budget sentiment was on the increase, said the senator's assistant press secretary, Bill Fessler, as the receptionists continued their refrain:

"Thank you for holding. He's still debating that, sir. Are you in favor or opposed? . . . I'm sorry, we only have time for brief comments."

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