Free-spending Congress

Robert Novak
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Posted: Jun 19, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- To counter runaway spending in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, the conservative Republican Study Committee is considering a proposal to station a watchdog congressman on the House floor to curb expedited approval of money bills.
 
To do so would be a vote of no confidence in the regular Republican leadership. "Too much spending is being voice voted," freshman Republican Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas said in an appeal this week to fellow Study Committee members. "Are you willing to help?" Supposedly routine legislation is brought to the House under a suspension of the rules that requires two-thirds support on a voice vote.

 Hensarling contends that this week, five bills authorizing $435 million over the next four years were passed on voice votes, some without a text available. Within the last month, Congress added $464 million in current-year spending by suspending the rules. House members usually do not know when they vote how much these bills cost.

DEMOCRATIC VEEPSTAKES

 Rep. Richard Gephardt's close associates, who felt a week earlier that he was leading the pack to be Sen. John Kerry's vice-presidential running mate, now believe that Sen. John Edwards has become the favorite.

 Kerry is much closer personally to Gephardt, but supporters have told him that a Kerry-Gephardt ticket would look too much like business as usual and turn off Howard Dean loyalists. Edwards has come across as the favorite of the party's rank-and-file.

 A footnote: The boom for Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack may have run out of steam. The Gephardt insiders have been advised that Vilsack now is running a poor third behind Gephardt and Edwards. Nevertheless, insiders say that Kerry is more comfortable with Vilsack than with either Edwards or Gephardt.

HALEY IN ILLINOIS

 Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, fresh from a state legislative victory on tort reform, will be the featured speaker in Sandwich, Ill., on July 16 at an event for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.
 
Barbour, a former Republican national chairman, has kept close to home since his election as governor last year. However, his victory on tort reform has freed one of the GOP's most recognizable figures nationally to go beyond the borders of Mississippi. He signed the bill into law Wednesday, ending Mississippi's tenure as the national haven for trial lawyers.

 The $25-a-ticket barbecue is Hastert's 17th annual "Farmers' Picnic" at the Sandwich Fairgrounds.

REPUBLICAN DISCIPLINE

 Veterans and anti-abortion organizations are warning that the House Republican leadership risks retaliation if it disciplines maverick Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey by removing him as chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

 Republican leaders have made no secret of their displeasure with Smith, a 12-term lawmaker. He has violated the party line by voting against the budget resolution, publicly demanding more money for veterans and derailing the bankruptcy bill because it contained provisions against protesters outside abortion clinics. Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, reported this week that the leadership is giving "serious consideration" to taking away Smith's chairmanship.

 Smith is a favorite of both pro-life and veterans lobbies, which say the Republican Party would pay a price if it purges him. While Smith's American Conservative Union lifetime rating is only 62 percent, he is a hero of Christian conservatives because of his pro-life militancy.

LOUISIANA MANEUVERS

 National Republican strategists are apprehensive in awaiting former Gov. Buddy Roemer's decision whether to run for the Senate from Louisiana this year, which could threaten GOP hopes of electing the state's first Republican senator since Reconstruction.

 A candidacy by Republican Roemer in the state's Nov. 2 non-party election could derail chances of the party's designated candidate, Rep. David Vitter. Another Republican in the race could mean that neither qualifies for the Dec. 4 runoff.

 Rep. Chris John is the handpicked successor of retiring Democratic Sen. John Breaux, but State Treasurer John Kennedy leads all Democrats in the polls.