Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) is in financial straits, burdened by stock trading losses and by personal debts incurred since his young daughter's 1994 battle with cancer.

The financial troubles of the five-term congressman from Alexandria, who is on the House Appropriations and Budget committees, emerged as a central dispute in divorce papers filed last month by Moran and in June by his wife of 11 years, Mary M. Moran.

She filed for divorce one day after placing an emergency call to police during a domestic argument at the couple's Alexandria home in late June. No charges were filed, and Moran brought his own divorce complaint three weeks later.

In court filings, the Morans blame each other for money problems, which mounted after their daughter, Dorothy, then 2, was diagnosed with brain and spinal cancer. Now 8, she has gone into remission, but the nadir of the Morans' financial dealings occurred during a wrenching period in 1996, when Dorothy appeared at risk of recurrence.

Mary Moran, 44, spent more than $15,000 on alternative therapies and went heavily into debt buying many gifts and antiques that year, her spokesman said. The spending followed $200,000 in insured care given to the couple's daughter.

At the same time, James Moran lost roughly $120,000--nearly equivalent to a year's congressional salary--in high-risk stock options and futures contracts in 1995 and 1996, statements filed with his congressional financial disclosure forms show. By 1998, the Morans had spent or borrowed heavily against all personal assets reported in the forms.

According to public records and his advisers, James Moran earns $136,700 as a congressman, but after roughly $7,000 in monthly housing and loan payments, the family is living on less than $2,000 a month.

James Moran, 54, has been a fixture of Alexandria politics for two decades and is one of suburban Washington's most visible local politicians. He has worked to separate the couple's financial trials from his official and campaign operations. But an increasingly acrimonious divorce proceeding has opened his professional and political roles as a fiscal manager to new scrutiny.

In divorce papers filed July 15 in Alexandria Circuit Court, Moran blamed his wife for "recklessly profligate spending," which he said occurred without his knowledge and was part of a pattern of "irrational and erratic behavior." Despite his requests that she stop, Moran said in the filing, Mary Moran "threatened to spend the family into economic ruination and depletion of [his] hard-earned assets" to the detriment of the couple's two young children, Dorothy and Patrick, 10.

Subsequently, attorneys for Mary Moran have alleged in court papers that the congressman had a history of "wasting the family assets on his stock market gambling." In a recent filing seeking $25,000 in support and possession of their home, she contends that her husband "has wasted marital funds on the excessive purchases for unnecessary items."

Besides Patrick and Dorothy, the couple raised an older son from one of Mary Moran's two previous marriages. James Moran has two grown children from a previous marriage. He and Mary Moran met at an Alexandria stock brokerage house where both worked, and they were married Nov. 11, 1988.

Neither James nor Mary Moran would comment publicly about their divorce proceedings or money problems. But interviews with their attorneys and spokesmen portray a man who is financially vulnerable and under pressure that is unusual even in the House, where most members are not independently wealthy.

On the influential Appropriations Committee, James Moran sits on subcommittees overseeing defense and interior expenditures. He also is the senior Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on the District. Like all members of Congress, he is a de facto small business owner and political entrepreneur with his responsibility for an office budget of nearly $1 million and a campaign fund of $800,000.

Moran, who was Alexandria's mayor from 1985 to 1990, was also a professional stockbroker for seven years before being elected to Congress.

Moran played and lost heavily on the market. Liquidating earlier stock holdings and using income tax refunds as seed money, he lost about $34,000 in more than 80 trades in 1995. His losses peaked in 1996, when he placed more than 100 trades and lost $93,000, after which he scaled back, according to account statements included in his House reports.

At the time of his losses, the overall market was broadly profitable. But Moran engaged in high-risk, potentially lucrative futures and options trading in which he sought higher profits by trading on the direction of general market index funds, as well as on an array of U.S. and foreign technology and industrial stocks.

In a typical transaction, Moran purchased a contract for a few thousand dollars to buy or sell a number of shares in a stock or an index, such as International Business Machines Corp. or the Standard & Poor's 500, at a set price by a future date. Whether the index or stock rose or fell in value determined his profit or loss.

Burdened by losses, the Morans retrenched. Since 1996, they have twice refinanced their three-bedroom home in Del Ray, land records show, withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars in equity and more than doubling its mortgage, from $202,000 to $447,000. They also refinanced a larger vacation home in rural King George County, Va., for $186,150. Both loans were at above-market rates.

A Moran spokesman said the Alexandria mortgage was arranged as a "completely arm's-length transaction" after a telephone solicitation by MBNA Consumer Services Inc., of Delaware, with whom the Morans had a credit card account. MBNA was offering loans to borrowers who already carried sizable debt, Moran advisers said.

The Morans have tried to sell both houses in the last 18 months without success. An appraisal for MBNA valued the Alexandria house at $460,000, which two local real estate professionals say is high but not unrealistic.

The couple tripled their outstanding credit card debt from 1993 to 1997 to at least $45,000, James Moran's congressional filing shows, prompting him to borrow the maximum against his congressional retirement fund this year, about $20,000.

In October 1996, after back-to-back trades that lost $75,000, Moran sold his car, interviews with both sides show, and turned to his campaign to pay for a year-round auto lease--an expenditure that appears on his campaign financial statement. It is not unusual for members of Congress to lease cars with campaign funds, although in the Washington area, only Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) regularly seeks reimbursement for a percentage of his driving costs.

Moran also had $12,000 in reimbursement requests from the campaign in 1997--an off year for elections--for items including meals, gifts and fund-raising activities. In previous off-year cycles, Moran requested reimbursement of about $4,000 for the same kinds of items.

Mame Reiley, Moran's campaign manager, said the 1997 expenses were legitimate because most of Moran's travel as a local congressman was for political purposes. She also said that he consciously increased his off-year fund-raising activity. Moran's official expenses are below the congressional average, which Reiley also noted.

"It is clear by the way he's managed his office, the fact he has turned back money, that he's very, very conscious of the trust the people of this district have placed in him. He runs a very tight ship," Reiley said.

The congressman's attorneys said in a statement: "The Morans, like millions of Americans, made investments. Mr. Moran used the knowledge he acquired as a stockbroker during the 1980s. Unfortunately it didn't work out. All the information about the Morans' investments has been fully and completely disclosed in his annual financial disclosure statement. . . . There's nothing new here."

Congressional disclosure forms do not require members to detail federal pension or retirement account holdings or real estate not held for income purposes. But Moran's advisers say that apart from a quarter-interest in a family property in Maine, he has no other significant holdings.

Moran's attorney, Daniel G. Dannenbaum, of the Lewis Law Firm in Fairfax City, said, "The congressman is confident he can restore the family's finances."

Moran is now renting an Alexandria home owned by a friend and longtime supporter, Daniel R. Abramson. Moran's attorney said his client's situation would improve quickly with the sale of his homes.

Although Stephen A. Armstrong, a Republican activist who is an attorney for Mary Moran, has predicted political consequences for James Moran if the details of his wife's complaints are aired, several area Democrats said there is no sign that voters in Moran's home district of Alexandria, Arlington and part of Fairfax County are blaming him for his financial or personal legal difficulty.

In November, Moran claimed the largest vote share of any Virginia congressman facing major party opposition, winning 67 percent in one of the state's most solidly Democratic districts. Reiley said that Moran will run for reelection next year and that he has no interest in seeking higher-paying private employment.