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Clinton Soon May Score First Legislative Victory

CONGRESS appears to be on the verge of passing the Family and Medical Leave Act, which would require companies with more than 50 employees to grant up to 12 weeks' unpaid leave to workers to care for a newborn child or a seriously ill family member.

The House took up consideration of the bill yesterday, just one day after the Senate began debate on the measure. Even opponents of the legislation, which would affect approximately 40 percent of United States workers but only 5 percent of all companies, concede that it is likely to win swift approval. Republican lawmakers have introduced a series of amendments to make the legislation more palatable to business, but the alternative proposals - including one that would offer firms tax credits for granting

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family leave - were given little chance of passage.

The only obstacle to approval of the Family Leave Act appears to be the continuing imbroglio over lifting the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Republican senators planned to introduce an amendment to the family leave act that would write the ban on gay soldiers into law. But Senate majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine said he believed there were enough votes to defeat a Republican amendment on gays. And Senate minority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas said: "I don't want anyone to have th e impression we're holding up the family leave act, although I wouldn't mind doing just that."

President Clinton has his pen poised to sign the family leave bill as soon as it is approved by both houses. After being distracted by the debate over gay rights, the president is eager to show that his administration can rack up some quick legislative triumphs. Conflict-of-interest charges

During his campaign, Clinton promised to clean up the ethical tar pits of Washington. But some of his appointments have drawn a fair amount of criticism for creating potential ethics problems.

The Commerce Department is a case in point. Secretary Ronald Brown is a prominent lawyer-lobbyist who was accused of using his post as Democratic national chairman to benefit some of his clients. Now the nominee for the No. 2 post at Commerce, John Rollwagen, is also coming under fire on conflict-of-interest grounds.

Mr. Rollwagen is chairman and chief executive officer of Cray Research Inc., a Minneapolis-based computer manufacturer that seeks the Commerce Department's permission to sell a supercomputer to China. The Pentagon opposes the sale because it believes the supercomputer could have military applications.

Commerce Department spokesman Kevin Sweeney said Rollwagen will recuse himself from "any matters which directly and specifically affect Cray Research." As a result, Mr. Sweeney said, the appointment would not create a conflict of interest.

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But Christine Tarr of Business Executives for National Security, a Washington think tank, told the Associated Press that Rollwagen's appointment would create "an incredible conflict of interest. I don't think he can effectively recuse himself." Can cheeseburgers be far behind?

President Clinton may have had a little trouble at first setting his administration's political agenda.

But on matters culinary, he and wife Hillary are in undisputed control. And they are using their absolute power to introduce American cuisine on a White House menu that has long been dominated by French cooking.

The Clintons' first state dinner, held on Sunday to honor the National Governors' Association, featured an all-American lineup of smoked marinated shrimp with mango horse radish chutney, roast tenderloin of beef, baby vegetables in a zucchini basket, Yukon Gold potatoes with Vidalia onions, salad with hazelnut dressing, and an apple sherbet terrine. Wines from California, Oregon, and Virginia were served.

"For the first lady to realize she is hosting a dinner for the governors and to have the sensitivity that it might be a good idea to serve American food, rather than European food, makes a great deal of sense," Larry Forgione, chef-owner of An American Place in New York, told the Associated Press.

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