Robert Novak

Consequently, on April 12, DeMint brought up his rule for passage under unanimous consent. Freshman Sen. Bob Menendez, on duty for the Democratic leadership, objected. Menendez claimed, reporter John Stanton wrote in the Roll Call newspaper, "that despite numerous news stories and notifications from DeMint that he intended to seek the UC [unanimous consent], Democrats had not been given adequate time to review the proposed amendment."

DeMint announced he would try again Tuesday, and he was not alone. Besides Coburn, he was joined by second-termer Michael Enzi of Wyoming and first-termers Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and John Cornyn of Texas. That gang of five might be called the Senate Republican reform caucus.

In response, the Democrats prepared carefully. Eleven minutes before DeMint spoke, Byrd's Appropriations Committee announced "an unprecedented policy of transparency and accountability." Democrats were not relying on a freshman senator this time. Byrd was presiding as the Senate's president pro tem, and Majority Whip Durbin objected and insisted a full ethics bill must be passed. "It is not the right way to accomplish our goal," he said.

That leaves the door open for earmarks on authorization bills, like the "Bridge to Nowhere." "So," Coburn told the Senate after Durbin's objection, "we will play the same game but one step further back."

This is no Democrat-vs.-Republican partisan struggle. The word in the Republican cloakroom was that a GOP senator would derail the DeMint rule if the Democrats did not. The Republican leadership is not enthralled with DeMint and Coburn, and would like them to go away. They won't. They are determined to bring into the open who sponsors and who benefits from earmarks.

Robert Novak

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

©Creators Syndicate