The intense battle in the House last week over a "patients' bill of rights"--including the right to sue HMOs--produced moments of riveting debate.

For example, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaking Thursday on the House floor against a weaker substitute by Reps. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), cited the case of constituent Stephen Parrino.

Parrino underwent successful surgery for a brain tumor, Pelosi said, but his health maintenance organization refused to pay for the follow-up therapy the doctors ordered. Parrino repeatedly protested and finally got the HMO to ask for a second opinion. Weeks later, the second opinion came back saying the therapy was needed. But two weeks after that, the tumor spread, she said. Parrino tried to sue but wasn't legally able to.

"With no remedy against the HMO," Pelosi said, "Stephen Parrino ultimately died as a result of the tumor. . . . Mr. Parrino's HMO did not provide him with the remedy to save his life," Pelosi said. "His family has no remedy against that HMO."

Absolutely not so, Graham immediately responded. "Under our bill, they would have a legal remedy. They would have a wrongful death claim brought in federal court."

Course, that wouldn't help Parrino much. Nor would it help the families if patients don't manage to die.

Podesta's Happiest Day at the White House

It was a gala to-do Wednesday night in the Willard Hotel ballroom for the annual awards dinner of the League of Conservation Voters. Most all the heavy hitters in the environmental movement were there.

The enviros had wanted Vice President Gore as their speaker, but he was a no-show, sending White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta as his stand-in.

Gore wanted to be here, Podesta began, but he sends his regrets from Nashville, where "he's trying to give new meaning to the term 'renewable energy.' "

One of the honorees was Thomas E. Lovejoy, counselor to the secretary of the Smithsonian for biodiversity and environmental affairs, and a hero of the environmental movement. He was to receive the league's Environmental Leadership Award. Podesta told the crowd that he and Lovejoy go back years, to Earth Day 1990 and their work on that day and on a fund-raising concert. "Getting to introduce [the band] 10,000 Maniacs on the steps of the U.S. Capitol was great preparation for the job I have now," he said.

And is John an enviro himself? You bet. The day he got his picture taken with the no-longer-endangered bald eagle was "the happiest day of my life at the White House."

Sure doesn't take much, does it?

Rep. Bono Has a Change of Heart

Straddling both sides of hot-button issues is not easy, but Rep. Mary Bono (R-Calif.) seems to have done it. When the Unborn Victims of Violence Act came to the House floor recently, Bono voted against it. The bill makes it a separate federal crime to kill a fetus when attacking a pregnant woman, something critics argued was a sneak attack on Roe v. Wade.

Oddly enough, though, Bono had voted in favor of the bill just two weeks before when it came up in the Judiciary Committee. "I'm in trouble with both sides, no question," Bono said. "It would be so much easier to be 100 percent pro-life or 100 percent pro-choice."

Bono said that "at first blush" the bill made sense, but she decided that it had "implications down the road for a woman's right to choose."

"It's listening to your heart," Bono said, using the same kind of language she used when voting for the impeachment of President Clinton last year.

Clinton Selects Diplomatic, Defense Nominees

It's official. . . . Washington lawyer and former Democratic National Committee chief Charles Manatt is Clinton's pick to be ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Career foreign service officer Avis Thayer Bohlen, most recently ambassador to Bulgaria, has been tapped to be assistant secretary of state in the bureau of arms control. And former senator Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.) is going to be nominated to be ambassador to New Zealand, the White House said Friday.

Alphonso Maldon Jr., a retired 21-year Army veteran and most recently deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs, is Clinton's choice for assistant secretary of defense for force management policy.

Moving Up, Over and Out

Andy Solomon, formerly at the Democratic National Committee and deputy press secretary at the Department of Agriculture for the last two years, is moving up to press secretary and director of public affairs. Susan McAvoy, press secretary and more recently legislative director for Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), moves over to be deputy press secretary. Sedelta Verble, who had been deputy communications director, moves up to the directorship.

At the State Department, David Marchick, deputy assistant secretary for transportation matters and formerly at the Commerce Department, is leaving to join a Maryland-based Internet start-up company.

Friday's column implied that Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.) had formally announced his Senate candidacy. He has not. Yet.