The long-simmering frustration of Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Calif.) with Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan for what he views as policies kowtowing to Bush administration conservatives erupted yesterday when Stark called Sullivan "a disgrace to his race."

Sullivan, the only black member of the Cabinet, demanded an apology, but Stark, one of the House's leading legislators on health care, said last night that he will not apologize to Sullivan.

Stark, who is white, attacked Sullivan while holding a morning news conference on his bill to make the tobacco industry reimburse Medicare and Medicaid for some of the programs' costs attributable to smoking. In response to a question, Stark said, "Louis Sullivan comes as close to being a disgrace to his profession and his race as anybody I have seen in the Cabinet." Sullivan is a physician.

In the afternoon, Stark told reporters that Sullivan is "a disgrace to his race because he does not really have the courage to turn his back on {White House Chief of Staff John H.} Sununu and an administration {that} is working to the disadvantage of minority and poor" citizens.

Sullivan, in California on a speaking tour, issued an angry response. "I demand an apology from Congressman Stark for his intemperate remarks and personal attack made earlier this morning. . . . I wish he had the guts to make his comments to my face. I don't live on Pete Stark's plantation. It's too bad ultra-liberals like Pete Stark haven't progressed to the point that they can accept the independent thinking of a black man that does not conform to their own stereotyped views."

Late yesterday, the White House came to Sullivan's defense. "Congressman Fortney Stark's bigoted assault on the integrity and ability of Secretary Sullivan is an affront to the Congress and the Democratic Party," press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said in a statement issued in Aspen, Colo. "We trust the Democratic Party and its chairman, Ron Brown, will disassociate themselves from Congressman Stark's ill-tempered and shameful remarks."

In a telephone interview last night, Stark said while he will not apologize to Sullivan for his remarks, "I will apologize to black America for the administration turning its back on black medical care."

Stark, chairman of the Medicare subcommittee of the Ways and Means Committee, added, "I will apologize for Sullivan being led around by the nose" by Sununu and budget director Richard G. Darman.

Stark said top Bush aides, not Sullivan, have dictated policies refusing to fund abortions for poor women and refusing to back initiatives to expand health insurance for the uncovered, including workers laid off in defense cutbacks.

Stark noted that Sullivan had been forced to do a "flip-flop" on allowing abortion, which he originally seemed to favor.

Stark said that other House members, including some blacks whom he did not name, "share my feeling that he is an apologist for a racist administration."

Stark has become increasingly frustrated with Sullivan's positions on several health care issues. He was extremely vexed when Sullivan made a speech on July 23 saying he opposed national health insurance, which Stark strongly supports. At every turn, Stark said, Sullivan declines to support legislative initiatives to help the needy and "doesn't have the courage to explain to the American people that the Bush administration is bankrupt when it comes to helping the disadvantaged."

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.