Robert Novak

Flake, in his May 15 letter to Boehner, made "another appeal" for House Republicans "to take a more proactive position in opposition to earmarks." The minority leader did not respond. Instead, on May 21, Boehner wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Murtha's $23 million earmark for a National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown was "a questionable project" secured by "highly suspect methods." Indeed, the project was not placed on the earmark list, as required by the new rules. An effort by Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan to eliminate this project led to Murtha's notorious threats, in violation of House rules, to eliminate Rogers's own earmarks "now and forever."

In fact, Rogers, a 43-year-old former FBI agent, has 10 current earmarks to protect, costing more $45 million. Flake is a rare Republican who understands that pounding on Democrats will not cure the GOP's earmark addiction. "I am concerned," Flake wrote Boehner, "that the only action taken regarding earmarks by Republicans thus far this year is to ask for clarification of the earmark rules, in order to ensure that we can take full advantage of earmark opportunities." Boehner, who personally does not use earmarks, told me "I can't agree with that." But he did not respond to Flake.

Nor do Democrats show interest in curbing earmarks. Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, Pelosi's hand-picked Intelligence Committee chairman, blamed non-disclosure of earmarks on a mistake by the Government Printing Office. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey first skirted the new rules by claiming no earmarks were contained in the supplemental appropriations. Last week, he decreed that henceforth, earmarks in his bills would not be revealed until a measure passes both the House and Senate. The test for Democrats is what they will do about Murtha now that it is known he rewards contributors with federal funds.

Robert Novak

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

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