Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's recent colon cancer surgery, though reportedly successful, has folks thinking about control of the high court as a key issue in the 2000 presidential campaign.

The court, so closely divided on such hot-button issues as abortion, affirmative action, federalism and religion in schools, always at least simmers on the election back burner. That's where most people expected it to stay this time.

But Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson ratcheted it up a notch in a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," talking about what he wanted to say to Patrick J. Buchanan to talk him out of bolting the GOP for the Reform Party.

"I also have some things that I want to point out to him," Nicholson said, "and ask Pat why he and his supporters would want to take the risk of letting Al Gore or Bill Bradley appoint liberal justices to the United States Supreme Court for life . . . liberals who tend to turn our Constitution into a suggestion box when they have a chance, where if we hold together, we'll have conservative Republican justice--appointed judges on that court who will strictly interpret the Constitution." That should be enough to take care of huge chunks of Buchanan's social issues agenda.

The word put out by the court last week was that Ginsburg, 66, was recovering from surgery without complications, but precious little else was disclosed. Even if she recovers fully, as many with colon cancer do, she may not care to stay on the court that much longer.

Court watchers note that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist will be 75 on Friday; Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will be 70 in March; and Justice John Paul Stevens will be 80 in April.

Even if Ginsburg stays, a Republican president may have the opportunity to shift the balance of the court if staunch conservatives replace O'Connor and Stevens. If Ginsburg decided to retire, it would be almost certain.

Clinton and 'Managers,' in a State of Harmony

Music apparently has the power to bring folks together. So there at the White House congressional Jazz on the Lawn picnic last week were none other than Reps. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), James E. Rogan (R-Calif.) and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), enjoying the food and music with President Clinton. And just a few months ago, they were managing the impeachment effort in the Senate.

Senate's Premier Junketeer Is Hitting the Road

The junket king of the Senate staff, Montana GOP Sen. Conrad Burns's top aide Leo Giacometto, is traveling to the private sector. A Congressional Quarterly report this summer on Hill travel found that Giacometto, a former U.S. marshal and Montana legislator, had taken 13 trips in a 17-month period ending May 14.

The trips, authorized by Burns and paid for by industry and trade groups, were valued at $19,000, according to the CQ analysis. Giacometto, 37, went to places such as Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Pebble Beach, Calif.; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Burns is chairman of the Senate Commerce telecommunications subcommittee. Four of Giacometto's 13 trips were paid for by telecommunications companies.

Asked about the travel, Burns told CQ that, although Giacometto has been his top aide since 1995, "He's getting his feet wet. There are a lot of things he has to learn."

Giacometto apparently has toweled off since then and has learned enough to be named vice president of government affairs at Morrison Knudsen Corp. He'll be in charge of the huge construction company's office here and may be able to bankroll trips himself, so be nice.

Economic Group's Pitch Falls Outside

Picked up a neat baseball the other day from the conservative Citizens for a Sound Economy. "Strike Out New Taxes!" it says in large type, and "Tax Cuts: A Home Run for America."

In fine print: "Made in China."

Education Spokeswoman Joins Gore Campaign

Julie Green, who had been press secretary for Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, is moving to the Gore campaign to work in the communications shop there. Will she be working on tidying up Gore's education message so that it doesn't look like a Dukakis-wonkish laundry list?

White House Staff Members Set to Leave

Julie Mason, deputy press secretary for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, is going private, moving to America Online to do communications. Jordan Tamagni, who survived having come into the administration with Dick Morris and was a speechwriter for President Clinton, is also moving to AOL to write for boss Steve Case. Deputy press secretary Beverly Barnes is moving on to the political consulting firm of Greer, Margolis, Mitchell, Burnes & Associates.

National Economic Council chief of staff Jonathan Kaplan, who formerly worked at the Small Business Administration, is going to Varsitybooks.com, something like Amazon.com, but this new venture discounts textbooks for college students. Could be some huge bucks in this.

Richard Socarides, in the Clinton White House more or less from the beginning as point person on gay issues and other projects--including the recent NATO summit--is moving to be senior vice president of communications strategy for Internet and other media companies at Robinson Lerer & Montgomery.

Senate Panel Moves to Fill Ex-Im Bank Board

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee moved last week to get the Export-Import Bank a full board so it can function, sending to the Senate floor nominees Vanessa Weaver and Dan Renberg.