Robert Novak

 President Bush's opposition to the Grassley-Baucus bill was meaningless. Bush could not kill the bill by objecting, but any senator could and Ensign did. Ensign noted that Congress had appropriated an extra $62 billion in the wake of Katrina. He pointed to the fact that the bill is a general Medicaid enrichment unrelated to hurricanes. It makes sure that 29 states scheduled for federal Medicaid cuts would be "held harmless" -- that is, would not suffer a reduction. That list is headed by $78 million in extra funds for Alaska.

 Baucus could hardly contain himself. He stormed that this bill "has nothing to do with the $62 billion, nothing whatever." Baucus would not yield to Ensign, so that he could explain that Medicaid funds could be taken from the $62 billion.

 Baucus's veins were popping, but he was self-controlled compared to the normally soft-spoken Lincoln. She seemed on the verge of tears, not only because of the evacuees' health but from outrage that a deal had been broken. "I was asked in good faith to withdraw my amendment because nobody wanted to vote against it," Lincoln said. "Withdraw your amendment and we will work out a good bipartisan deal. Chairman Grassley and Sen. Baucus did just that."

 After Lincoln's tirade, another member of the Republican economy bloc -- Sen. John Sununu of New Hampshire -- responded by coolly analyzing the bill's excessive spending. Also on the floor were two other bloc members: freshman Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and McCain. Although previously out of step with his party on tax cuts, McCain is aligned against tax increases as "a cop-out" to avoid budget trimming.

 Among others in the bloc are the two South Carolina senators, Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint. Graham wants this group to join the House's conservative Republican Study Committee in a "full frontal assault" on runaway spending. The culture of Washington is against them, but stopping one $9 billion outlay is a start.

Robert Novak

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

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