Rich Galen

Nancy Pelosi has had a tough week.

- She has had to agree to pretty much an unconditional surrender on the Iraq funding bill...

In a new low for the category: "Demonstrating Political Leadership," Pelosi has announced that she probably will not vote for the bill she negotiated thereby leaving many of her Democratic colleagues to feel the full wrath of MoveOn.Org and its allies on the Far Left.

- She had to oversee a vote which made a total lie of the pre-election promises to clean up the lobbying and earmarking activities which has led to dozens of Justice Department investigations of Members of Congress;

- She had to deny on a nationally televised Sunday morning show that she had known anything about the bellowing and finger pointing on the House Floor by her former mentor and current ally, the under- or mis-medicated John Murtha of Pennsylvania, and;

- She had to allow a vote to reprimand said John Murtha for that fairly serious violation of House Rules - a vote which was "tabled" as a procedural mechanism to avoid having Democrats have to vote a THIRD time in a week on an issue many of them hated.

Murtha, who is chairman of the Defense Appropriations subcommittee, exploded over Republican threats to block a $23 million piece of pork that Murtha wants for his district. He said to Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich) - a former FBI Special Agent - that Rogers would never get an earmark into a Defense Appropriations Bill "not now, not ever."

I think I am safe in saying this not the first time the chairman of an appropriations subcommittee has threatened a colleague - it is not for nothing they are known as the "Cardinals" - but it generally happens in a hallway or a hideaway office, not on the Floor in full view of television cameras and the rest of the House.

On the earmarking front, the Dems have come up with not one, but TWO end-runs according to a front-pager in the Washington Post by John Solomon and Jeff Birnbaum.

On the Energy Appropriations bill, Members were not permitted to attach earmarks - explicit instructions that a Department or Agency purchase specific good or services (usually from a company owned by a constituent, a donor, or both) - so they have taken to calling the Department of Energy and telling them what a great idea it would be if the DoE would spend money - money which is already appropriated although not by name - on this or that.

According to the WashPost piece this is happening often enough that it has a name: Phonemarking.

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 Mullings.com.