It's becoming something of a staple of Washington punditry to ponder the source of the problems afflicting Vice President Gore and his presidential campaign. Why is he so stiff, the television bloviators wonder. Why is his campaign so lifeless and cold?

Ponder no more! The answer comes to us from the world of forensic medicine.

As murder mystery aficionados know, there are several ways the pathologists determine when the dastardly deed occurred.

First there's rigor mortis, literally the stiffness of death. This becomes particularly noticeable about three to four hours after death. (Gore has long been a medical marvel for exhibiting the condition while still alive.)

Then there's livor mortis, the pooling and settling of the blood, which starts right away and becomes fixed in about 12 hours.

The third condition--the one most clearly afflicting the campaign--is known in the forensic trade as algor mortis. This refers to the cooling of a body after death, which occurs at about 2 degrees Fahrenheit an hour, under normal conditions, in the first few hours.

Maybe they could reverse this with the proper algorithms?

Reed to White House: Export This

Remember that $2.3 billion in exports stalled because the Ex-Im Bank doesn't have a quorum? Well, it's going to be stalled a while longer. A Senate Banking Committee hearing on board nominee Vanessa Weaver was abruptly adjourned Friday when Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) objected, citing a rule that can shut down a committee when business is pending on the Senate floor (the tax bill was being considered at the time).

Seems Reed was most unhappy because his choice for the bank board--a Rhode Island banker whose name Reed sent to the White House in February--not only did not get the nod, but no one called him directly. Then, with but 24 hours notice, Reed is told about the hearing. So he took out his annoyance by shutting down the hearing.

Four other nominees were there, including economist Martin Baily, up for head of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, who had flown in from a business trip to Russia. He didn't even get to make his statement before Reed's objection brought things to a halt.

Others there included Robert Lawrence, also nominated to the council; Harry Bowie, who flew in from Mississippi to appear for his nomination to the National Consumer Cooperative Bank; and Armando Falcon, who has been nominated to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight.

Some of these folks brought their families, including small children, only to run into Reed's objection.

Look for a hearing next week. This will most certainly get worked out. If any American business loses a contract or even one American worker loses a job because the bank board doesn't have a quorum, the companies and unions will go ballistic.

Happy Birthday! Have a Slice of Budget!

Rep. James T. Walsh (R-N.Y.), who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on VA, HUD and independent agencies, had some bad news to deliver to NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin on July 23: Republicans intended to slash his agency's budget by 10 percent.

To add insult to injury, that was Goldin's birthday.

"He was not a happy camper," Walsh recalled as his panel considered the legislation last week.

Goldin's not taking the unwelcome birthday gift lying down. He's called the $1 billion-plus reductions "devastating" and a "knife in the heart of employee morale."

As L.A. Law Beckons, Who'll Replace Klain?

There's no official word, but folks in Vice President Gore's office are assuming that chief of staff Ron Klain will opt for a lucrative law firm partnership with Los Angeles-based O'Melveny & Myers.

They've even begun speculating on a successor. The obvious choice, President Clinton's deputy chief of staff, Steve Ricchetti, is said not to be interested. Other names heard in the chatter are Gore counsel Charles Burson and policy chief David Beier, Gore and Clinton adviser Lynn Cutler, Clinton deputy chief of staff Maria Echaveste and Tipper Gore chief of staff Audrey Tayse Haynes.

The Wintour of Their Discontent

Telecommunications entrepreneur and Clinton pal J. Shelby Bryan has raised and given lots of money to Clinton and the Democrats over the years. A dinner fund-raiser at his Upper East Side Manhattan home in 1997 raised $1.2 million. (This was the place that Clinton said "makes the White House look like public housing.")

So it seemed only appropriate that Clinton name him to a spot on the prestigious President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Bryan went through an extensive FBI background check for his top-secret clearance. The FBI, after seven or eight months, is said to have found only the typical lawsuits and allegations that most any prominent businessman would have in his personal portfolio.

But then the New York tabloids exploded in recent weeks with Bryan's romance with Vogue editor Anna Wintour--called Gotham's "undisputed queen of style"--and their impending and possibly exceptionally messy divorces from their respective spouses.

White House personnel chief Bob J. Nash is said to have approached Bryan and suggested that perhaps it might be better to postpone or maybe even forget about the PFIAB spot.

Bryan insisted. So he was sworn in, given his top-secret briefings and last week went to his first board meeting.