Robert Novak

 Although Smith breached the leadership's spending limits, all his proposals went through the regular congressional procedure. That contrasts to earmarking of funds for pork barrel spending, without hearings and without authorization. The Republican leaders have made little effort to curb the worst earmarking in history, because it benefits individual lawmakers. In contrast, Smith's attempts at higher veterans spending put pressure on the very few Republican incumbents who represent competitive districts that have not been gerrymandered -- for instance, Veterans Affairs committee member Rob Simmons of Connecticut.

 Majority Leader Tom DeLay and the other members of the Steering Committee wanted to purge Smith two years ago for defying the leadership on veterans spending, but Speaker Dennis Hastert saved him. This year, the pressure was so great that he was kicked off the committee entirely. That action probably did not represent the Republicans in the House, many of whom were stunned by the purge. Several paid condolence calls to Smith -- including International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde and Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, two influential conservatives.

 The leadership's avowed new interest in spending control did not extend to favorable consideration of reforms offered by the conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) under the aggressive new chairmanship of Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana. The Monday conference of House Republicans spent most of its four hours debating -- and rejecting -- the RSC proposals.

 Hastert and DeLay were passionate in the closed-door session, opposing any changes intended to make it more difficult to approve pork barrel projects and establish some accountability for them. The response by the leadership that it eventually will adopt its own procedures was hardly satisfying.

 The rank-and-file rebellion restoring a rule that will require DeLay to resign as majority leader if indicted by a Texas grand jury was the only setback for the leadership. The new Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis of California, is expected to be more attentive to the leaders than were his predecessors, whether or not he is a less open-handed spender. The fate of Chris Smith suggests Lewis will be well advised not to stray too far from what his leaders want.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

©Creators Syndicate