House launches `Oxford' debates

IT won't push ``60 Minutes'' or ``Murphy Brown'' off the air, but the United States House of Representatives on March 16 launches its own prime-time TV and radio show - live Oxford-style debates.

For 90 minutes, two teams of House members will debate the issue of health-care reform in a what could be a stimulating look at the nation's No. 1 political issue.

The topic under discussion will be: ``The Clinton health-care plan best represents the elements that should be included in health-care reform.''

Leading the affirmative team will be House majority leader Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri. Heading the negative team will be House minority whip Newt Gingrich (R) of Georgia.

Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Gingrich hope this will be only the first of a series of House debates in prime time every three weeks.

Similar teams of House members are expected to take up welfare reform in the next debate on April 20. Then on May 11, there will be mixed Republican and Democratic teams in a nonpartisan debate over either the economy or foreign policy.

After the first three debates, House leaders will decide whether the experiment is working and should be continued.

The first Oxford debate, which was originally scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. (EST), may not start until 9 because of floor action on the Balanced Budget Amendment. It will be broadcast on C-SPAN, as well as National Public Radio.

Tonight's Democratic debate team led by Gephardt also includes Rep. Henry Waxman of California, Rep. Pete Stark of California, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. The Republican debate team headed by Gingrich includes Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Rep. Bill Thomas of California, and Rep. Thomas Bliley of Virginia.

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