Robert Novak

 There was more of the same from the leadership at Wednesday's closed-door House Republican Conference. Pence was not asked to speak on behalf of the RSC, and he did not volunteer.

 But later Wednesday, RSC members in a press conference unveiled Operation Offset, an attempt to cut earmarks and reduce the drug subsidy bill. Pence offered to delay his $26 million highway earmark for Muncie and Anderson in eastern Indiana. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, a 48-year-old second-termer from Texas, similarly would be willing to delay $16 million for roads in Mesquite. Flake is a rare congressman who asked for no earmarked highway funds for his district (though it did not keep him from re-election last year with 79 percent of the vote). Young is the grand champion earmarker, with more than $1 billion in the highway bill for projects in his state of Alaska.

 Pence, Flake and Hensarling met privately with Office of Management and Budget Director Josh Bolten last Thursday and got a warmer reception than they did from their own leadership -- up to a point. The president will not permit a hair to be touched on the head of the expensive new entitlement for prescription drugs.

 The beleaguered conservatives see all this spending leading inexorably to a tax increase, which would redistribute the tax burden to the disadvantage of the successful and threaten an economic recession. Barry Goldwater long ago assailed Dwight D. Eisenhower for presiding over a "Dime Store New Deal." That stinging rebuke no longer would be appropriate for today's Republicans. They outdo Democrats on pork and are in the same ballpark on entitlements. Even Katrina and now Rita do not restrain them.

Robert Novak

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

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