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Moderate Senators Appear Close To Compromise Health-Care Bill

A GROUP of 15 to 20 Senate moderates from both political parties said Wednesday evening they were close to an agreement on a compromise health package they hope to take to Republican and Democratic leaders.

The group, with a shifting membership, has been meeting since June in an attempt to find an elusive compromise that could break the logjam in the bitterly divided Senate.

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Calling itself the ``mainstream coalition,'' the group has coalesced around Republican John Chafee of Rhode Island and Democrat John Breaux of Louisiana.

They have pushed for more cost containment and generally a simpler and less regulatory approach than the Democratic leadership bill drafted by majority leader George Mitchell (D) of Maine now being debated in the Senate.

By several accounts, they have given less attention to the employer mandate - the requirement that businesses contribute to workers' insurance costs. The Mitchell bill imposes no immediate mandate although one could be imposed in the year 2002 if other reforms fall short. Several of the moderates have acknowledged that their approach may fall short of Mitchell's minimum goal of covering 95 percent of Americans.

Crime bill converts a few

THE three black Democrats' opposition to Clinton's anticrime bill is visceral - they abhor the death penalty. But each has agreed to help revive the bill on the House floor.

The trio, Reps. Cleo Fields of Louisiana, Charles Rangel of New York, and John Lewis of Georgia, are Clinton's first converts among House members who used a procedural vote last week to block consideration of the bill. It will take five more turnabouts to bring the bill to the House floor.

A handful of other black Democrats stood firm against any support for the measure. The division among the Congressional Black Caucus reflects the complexity of the $33 billion anticrime package, which blends conservative and liberal programs.

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Democratic leaders are weighing changes in the bill they hope will lure moderates of both parties without alienating the measure's current supporters, who are mostly Democrats. Republican leaders continued to push for substantial cuts in the bill's crime prevention spending, on things such as youth programs, and tougher sentences for armed felons. Clinton's disapproval rating at a high

PRESIDENT Clinton's disapproval rating rose to an all-time high of 52 percent in a Gallup poll for CNN and USA Today, released Wednesday.

Only 39 percent of 1,011 adults surveyed Monday and Tuesday said they approved of the way Mr. Clinton was doing his job, down 10 percentage points from two months ago.

Clinton, weakened by a cycle of ups and downs during his first 19 months in office, is experiencing a particularly bad patch with the surprise rejection of his crime bill last week and the struggle to redeem his campaign promise of guaranteeing health-care benefits for every American.

Fifty-seven percent disapproved of the way Clinton was dealing with health care, while 35 percent thought he was on the right track. Forty-two percent favored Clinton's handling of the crime problem, with 46 percent opposed.

The poll showed that Americans overwhelmingly supported passage of the crime bill with its ban on assault weapons intact - 57 percent saying Congress should pass the measure in its original form and 30 percent favoring legislation without the prohibition.

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