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ROSTENKOWSKI ISN’T `DEAD’ YET, BUT REPORTERS ALREADY HOVER

SHARE ROSTENKOWSKI ISN’T `DEAD’ YET, BUT REPORTERS ALREADY HOVER

The door slammed with a thud, a reporter close by. It was Rep. Dan Rostenkowski's answer to the question of whether he was going to resign.

A little while later, the Illinois Democrat emerged from his private Ways and Means Committee office just off the House floor. The House had a vote and Rostenkowski strode to a side door. Locked. Reporters edged closer, but a doorkeeper quickly admitted the committee chairman.He reappeared shortly, scooted to the committee office and turned the handle. Locked. He fumbled for the keys and soon was inside a temporary sanctuary from the preying pack.

"The death watch," one man in an olive suit and loafers mused to those assembled outside the chairman's bunker Wednesday.

Rostenkowski was besieged, no doubt about that, facing the possible end of his 36-year congressional career and a possible prison sentence.

Federal prosecutors investigating his use of office and campaign accounts had given him a take-it-or-leave-it offer that would have him plead guilty to a felony, legal sources say. He has until Tuesday to reply.

His days as a power broker may be numbered, but Rostenkowski had congressional business - the nation's business - to attend to Wednesday.

The committee waded through health-care reform for several hours and heard from two members who had specific proposals.

Rostenkowski listened, leaned back in his chair, sometimes yawning and glancing at his watch, and let colleagues ask questions.

But, as Rep. Mike Kopetski, D-Ore., said later, "These are tough times."

Walking to the Capitol, Rostenkowski was asked if he was OK.

"I don't have any alternative, do I?" he answered.