Rich Galen

As to the regular old-fashioned Pay-Off-Your-Highest-Fundraising-Lobbyist Earmarks which Democrats promised to reduce from an open fire hydrant to a dribble, Solomon and Birnbaum wrote that House Approps Chairman David Obey (D-Wis) said he would keep earmarks out of the spending bills "for now" but, "Obey said the committee will deal with them at the end of the appropriations process in the closed-door meetings between House and Senate negotiators known as conference committees."

Ohhhh. I see. Democrats' definition of a "reform" is: Keep special spending amendments out of the public eye but promise they will be slipped in during the secret conference negotiations.

For those who - again - slept through the "How a Bill Becomes a Law" class, the House and Senate versions of a bill - any bill - must be identical. The House passes a version, the Senate passes its version then both Chambers send representatives to a "Conference Committee" to produce one identical bill.

The resulting bill is not subject to amendment on the floor of the House or Senate. Each Chamber can accept it, reject it, or send to back "with instructions."

Here's the secret: The actual bill text which will be sent to the President is usually accompanied by what is known as a "Conference Report" often containing instructions to an Agency or Department that they would do well to buy something even though it is not in the official bill.

Conference Report language does not have the force of law, but Agencies and Departments know from whence the butter comes for their daily bread and so they are quite likely to accede to these requests from the Hill.

It was for this sort of thing that the Republicans got fired last November and one can only hope that "non-partisan" groups like Common Cause are closely tracking the efficacy - if not the actual existence - of the promised Democratic reforms.

So, Madam Speaker. Ain't as easy as it looked, is it. Welcome to the NFL.

Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at