GOP platform process `open,' but Bush controls

In a stark contrast to the Democrats' highly controlled platform-writing process, the Republicans are publicly airing the divisions between the party's conservative and moderate factions. The GOP platform committee has been holding its final hearings here this week. The platform will be presented to the convention Tuesday.

Efforts by more moderate members of the committee to insert planks supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, legislation involving disabled Americans, and medicaid funding for abortion in cases of incest and rape were turned aside by the conservative majority on the committee.

Planks supporting tax credits to offset child-care costs and to provide catastrophic health insurance to children were passed, however, which pleased the moderates.

The forces of Vice-President George Bush were clearly in control. Gov. John Sununu of New Hampshire watched over Mr. Bush's interests during the process, and controversial votes turned on his instructions.

``When the Bush people felt strongly about something, he [Sununu] expressed his opinion on it,'' says Gov. John McKernan Jr. of Maine, a member of the platform committee. ``He is the one that all of us look to for the Bush position.''

``We got done exactly what we set out to get done,'' says Russ Schriefer, a Bush campaign aid and platform whip. ``There was some healthy debate on some issues, and that is healthy for any party. The positions that George Bush has taken are the positions taken in the platform.''

Governor McKernan, one of the more moderate participants, was successful in broadening the planks on child care and on the retraining of workers displaced by economic change.

But on the emotional issues of the ERA and abortion, the hard-line conservatives controlled the agenda.

The Bush people took pains to ensure that all viewpoints were allowed a hearing, however. At one point supporters of former presidential candidate Pat Robertson used a parliamentary procedure to cut off the debate on an amendment to strike antiabortion language included in a foreign-aid plank. Sununu put out the word that efforts to stifle debate would be rebuffed.

Despite the emotional appeals and heated debate on these issues, committee members interviewed believe that the platform will be supported by the full committee and the convention delegates. Both conservatives and moderates chalked up a few successes, and both groups appeared ready to accept their lumps and move on.

``It's important to understand that there is a fundamental division in our party on abortion and ERA,'' Governor McKernan says. ``But if you take those two issues aside, the platform is moving in the right direction.''

When asked if the open debate among platform members, something the Democrats went out of their way to avoid this year, might be damaging to the Republican Party, Sununu strongly disagrees.

``We are proud that what we did, we did in the open,'' he says. ``The Republican Party showed that on a lot of those issues we have constituencies that do have some differences and they aired them, they debated them, and then they decided on a platform position. ... It is conceivable that not every delegate will support each and every plank in the platform.''

``But,'' Sununu adds, ``it is a big enough and broad enough document that they will find the majority of the platform consistent with their philosophy.''

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