Robert Novak

Facing opposition on his own committee, Lewis capitulated. Only one appropriator voted against the rule as it passed, 216 to 207. Lewis and the appropriators tried to plant the story that this was a compromise, but it was not. The requirements that authors of earmarks be publicly identified and that any member of Congress be permitted to propose an earmark's removal are non-negotiable.

In the Senate, McCain's long crusade against earmarks has a new fighter in Coburn (who McCain says has supplanted him as the Senate's Miss Congeniality). On Wednesday, Coburn offered an amendment to eliminate 19 earmarks from the emergency appropriations bill and came just shy of defeating a $700 million railroad relocation in Mississippi.

On Thursday, Coburn proposed to eliminate $15 million for "seafood promotion strategy." McCain told the Senate: "Let me save the American taxpayers $125 million right now by telling all Americans now to eat seafood. Eat seafood. It is good for you." When Coburn rejected Cochran's call for a voice vote, the normally calm Appropriations chairman in a fury made a non-debatable tabling motion to kill Coburn's proposal. The astounding outcome was a 51 to 44 bipartisan victory for Coburn and McCain, following years of failure in such initiatives.

After the vote, Coburn could be seen on the floor animatedly lecturing a silent Cochran. It can be guessed he was promising to hold the Senate's feet to the fire on one earmark after another. Coburn this coming week will propose removing from the bill $500 million to be paid Northrop Grumman for lost income caused by Hurricane Katrina. The outcome will indicate whether last Thursday's events on Capitol Hill truly point to new congressional concern about using taxpayer money.

Robert Novak

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

©Creators Syndicate