What did Indonesian businessman Mochtar Riady, head of the now infamous Lippo Group, want for all that campaign cash funneled to Democrats? Shipping deregulation, for one thing.

According to press accounts of the correspondence that turned up in the White House search for Lippo material, there was a 1993 letter that Little Rock attorney Mark Grobmyer sent to the president upon returning from an Asian trip on behalf of the Riady family.Among his policy recommendations, Mr. Grobmyer said deregulating the shipping industry would boost U.S. business with Asia.

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The U.S. shipbuilding industry is excited about the prospect of William Cohen, the former Republican senator from Maine, becoming the next defense secretary. Maine, of course, is home to Bath Iron Works, one of the country's largest naval shipyards.

At an industry conference last week, Tom Bowler, president of the American Shipbuilding Association, praised Mr. Cohen's appointment, zooming in on his appreciation not only of shipbuilding, but the maritime industry in general. Defense analysts, however, are not so sure that Mr. Cohen will be a big advocate of greater spending on programs like Title XI, which guarantees loans to build vessels in U.S. shipyards, or an expanded military fleet. ''He will support standing programs, but I don't see him spending any additional money,'' said a defense consultant. On the other hand, Chris Hellman, a policy analyst with the Center for Defense Information, believes Mr. Cohen has been a strong proponent of Navy programs. On ballistic defense, for example, he is ''clearly interested'' in a Navy program that puts guided missiles on destroyers built at Bath.

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There's a lot of talk about how much super-duper bomb-sniffing X-ray machines will cost to install as part of the national aviation security network, but a Washington academic has folded the value of a human life into the equation and concluded that we've already spent too much.

Figuring the average airline passenger's life is worth between $5 million and $15 million, Robert Hahn from the American Enterprise Institute divides the cost estimates of heightened security under the Gore Commission plan - roughly $11 billion, using Federal Aviation Administration formulas - by the average number of deaths every year due to sabotage of U.S. carriers. That puts the cost of saving a life at more than $200 million.

Mr. Hahn also suggests that in trying to save lives, the government may unwittingly add to the death toll. He said 60 more fatalities a year will occur if the increased delays and costs of more bomb-proof air travel pushes people toward roads and other statistically less safe modes of transport.

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Lines are being drawn on a proposal to consolidate the Export-Import Bank, Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Trade and Development Agency into a super export promotion agency.

Senior officials at OPIC, still smarting from Congress' refusal to boost its capacity, are reportedly behind the idea. As part of a larger export agency, its chances of winning Capitol Hill backing might be improved, the theory goes.

But most members of Ex-Im Bank's private advisory committee want the bank to stay independent, a sentiment some senior bank officials share. TDA also may be resisting the merger proposal.

Merger advocates worry that in the end the idea won't fly, largely because consolidating the three agencies would mean two fewer plums President Clinton could hand out to those who helped his re-election.

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Former Rep. Norman Mineta, who chaired the now-defunct Public Works and Transportation Committee, a few weeks ago was on a Washington insider ''short list'' of White House candidates for secretary of transportation.

President Clinton has made it no secret that he wants an ethnically diverse Cabinet. Mr. Mineta, a California Democrat, would have been the first person of Asian descent to serve in a Cabinet post.

Mr. Mineta had more to offer than his ancestry. He is highly respected on both sides of the political aisle as an honest broker and someone who actually knows about the transportation industry. But, according to congressional staffers, his last name might have kept him from being selected.

Talk on the Hill is that administration officials were loath to name an Asian because of current investigations into questionable Democratic campaign contributions raised by former Commerce official John Huang. There is no link whatsoever between Mr. Mineta and Mr. Huang and no one thinks Mr. Mineta is involved in any other impropriety. ''The White House just doesn't want anyone thinking about Asian contributors and Huang,'' one Senate staffer said.

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Despite Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan's comments last week about ''irrational exuberance'' in stock prices, financial analysts still expect no change in interest rates when the board reviews monetary policy Tuesday.

The November producer and consumer price indexes and the retail sales figures released last week supported that consensus view, offering further evidence that both inflation and economic growth remain in first or second gear.

Looking ahead to 1997, most analysts see no change in interest rates on the immediate horizon.

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