Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has spent a good bit of time railing against greedy trial lawyers and has sponsored several pieces of legislation intended to limit awards in medical malpractice lawsuits--including a 1994 bill that would have capped noneconomic damages at $250,000.

The senator's wife, however, recently won a medical malpractice lawsuit against her chiropractor. The amount of Mary Santorum's award? $350,000.

Democrats wasted little time sending up indignant cries of hypocrisy.

"If you don't think someone who ran a race vilifying trial lawyers, who would impose $250,000 caps on noneconomic damages and has supported the rights of HMOs over the rights of patients, and then uses a trial lawyer to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in noneconomic damages in a malpractice suit is hypocritical, then Rick Santorum's your guy," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman David DiMartino told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

Santorum, a conservative freshman who came to Washington in the GOP wave of 1994, is considered one the GOP's most vulnerable incumbents. Several Democrats, including Rep. Ron Klink (Pa.) and former representative Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinksy, have lined up for the chance to take him on.

So how, exactly, does Santorum square his wife's award (she sought $500,000) with his position on tort reform? Apparently he doesn't.

Santorum spokesman Robert Traynham said the senator's wife never asked him for his opinion of the lawsuit and Santorum never offered it. "The senator and his wife, believe it or not, disagree on some issues," Traynham said. "This is a case between her and her attorney and her chiropractor. It has nothing to do with Senator Santorum."

Democrats, of course, would tend to disagree.

Watts Rules Out Quitting, but Not Retirement

Could it be that one of the Republican Party's most visible leaders will not be back after 2000? House Republican Conference Chairman J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) denied news reports that he was resigning from Congress, but left open the possibility he would retire next year.

After Bryant Gumbel reported this week on CBS's "The Early Show" that Watts would leave the House in January, the three-term Republican issued a statement saying, "Any news reports that I am resigning from Congress or leaving my post as chairman of the House Republican Conference are false."

"As I do every two years, I will announce my plans after the first of the year as to whether I will seek reelection as representative of the 4th congressional district in Oklahoma," he added.

Several Republicans said Watts has often expressed concern about the toll his job and its commute take on his family. And in a phone conversation early in the week with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Watts mentioned that he was considering not running again, according to a Hastert aide.

Watts chief of staff Pam Pryor said Watts regularly postpones making a decision about running until the year of an election. She added that Watts's concerns should not surprise his colleagues. "Since January 9, 1995, I don't know a congressman alive with a family outside Washington that doesn't have frustration," she said.