Robert Novak

Among senators wailing that their pet projects are being derailed, none has been louder than Democrat Kent Conrad, who will be Budget Committee chairman in the new Congress. A self-described fiscal conservative (because he wants tax increases), Conrad in 2005 alone submitted 41 proposals busting the Bush budget. He was so distraught last week that the ag money bill blocked by DeMint contained $4.9 billion in additional emergency relief that he threatened to stop any money bills from passing in the lame-duck session. He did not follow through with this program of actually closing the government.

The cornucopia that the senators want to sneak through is reflected in 40 pork-stripping amendments to the ag bill that Coburn was ready to introduce in the lame-duck session. His key amendments were aimed at $1.1 million for alternative salmon research in Alaska, $591,000 for the Montana Sheep Institute and $194,000 for Goose Control in the state of New York.

McCain has his own pork-busting list for ag appropriations headed by $1 million for the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center and $6 million for sugarcane growers in Hawaii. McCain also wants to get rid of the earmarks hidden in the Appropriations Committee report on the bill. They include construction costs, not requested by the administration, of $3 million for the Animal Waste Management Research Center in Bowling Green, Ky., and $2 million for the Grape Genetics Research Center in Geneva, N.Y.

The scope and irrelevancy of earmarks are reflected in another target on McCain's hit list: $200,000 for the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Davee Center for Epidemiology, both in Chicago. A stated purpose is "maintenance of health in zoo populations nationwide."

While the Senate's archaic rules can frustrate the will of the majority in passing legislation and confirming presidential nominations, they also can enable a few strong-minded senators to fight excess spending. These senators may well temporarily close what Tom Coburn calls the "favor factory" maintained by Republicans. Will the Democrats try to reopen it next year?

Robert Novak

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

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