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FOSTER BID NEARLY DEAD, DOLE DECLARES

Dr. Henry Foster's bid to be surgeon general is all but dead, according to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who said he may use his position to block a vote on the nomination.

Dole also singled out the controversial movie "Priest" for criticism and suggested political leaders have a responsibility to engage the entertainment industry in debate about the content of movies and television programs."If I'm the president of the United States, I'm going to encourage people to turn off their TV sets and not patronize these movies," he said.

Dole is the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, and his comments broadcast Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" appeared aimed at conservatives who are angered by what they see as America's moral decline.

Another contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, reiterated his pledge Sunday to end affirmative action and balance the federal budget by the end of his first term if elected president.

The film "Priest" has generated controversy for its portrayal of some troubled Roman Catholic clerics.

"It's about a gay priest, an alcoholic priest. It gives the impression that all Catholic priests are like these two," said Dole, a Methodist from Kansas.

He noted that protests by Catholic groups forced the film's distributor to delay its national release, which had been slated for Good Friday.

"I don't want to be a censor," he said. "My view is that shame is still an important tool in America."

On the Foster nomination, Dole said it may not even get out of committee.

"If it does, I'm not certain that I'll call it up," he said. "I'd say the nomination is `in extremis.' It's not very viable right now."

Hearings are slated to begin May 2 before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. Only Foster and members of Congress will be called to testify.

Foster has run into opposition on Capitol Hill for understating the number of abortions he has performed.

"Things dribbled out about Foster's past record that has nothing to do with abortion. In fact, he didn't tell the truth," Dole said.

On other Senate business, Dole said that while he still hoped to repeal a ban on 19 types of assault weapons, he has no immediate plan to try to reverse the Brady Law, which requires a waiting period for handgun purchases.

Both Dole and Gramm said they do not believe there are enough votes in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.