Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nearly the entire federal government would be funded by an omnibus appropriations bill to be unveiled today after covert negotiations. In subsequent parliamentary maneuvering likely to extend all through this week, Democrats will pare the spending level to the maximum demanded by President George W. Bush in order to avoid a veto. Republicans will declare victory. In fact, they are in retreat.

As the minority party in Congress, the GOP will have less than 24 hours to read the massive bill before it comes up for a House vote on Tuesday. While at least coming close to the Bush limit, the bill will be passed over Republican opposition because it contains no Iraq war funding. It then will go the Senate on Wednesday, where Republicans will use their filibuster threat to insert money for Iraq. Overall spending will be reduced to the Bush standard in the Senate by means of an across-the-board cut.

The bill then will be passed into law by the House, though Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she personally will vote against this solution that, in effect, finances the war at the expense of domestic programs.

This solution is designed to win bipartisan support because it will contain the earmarks for pork barrel spending back home dearly desired on both sides of the aisle. It became clear a week ago that Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell was in negotiation with Majority Leader Harry Reid for a bill to finance multiple new earmarks by means of across-the-board reduction in government programs. What's more, a little rules chicanery will hide an estimated 12,000 new earmarks, including pork that previously had not been passed by any chamber and is "airdropped" into the bill. The wily legislators have found a way to get around new ethics rules that require disclosure of all such spending.

Nobody can predict even at this late date exactly the outcome of this intricate legislative process. It is not totally out of the question that an omnibus money bill still will fail and that Bush will achieve his real desire.

On Friday, the president advocated a continuing resolution (CR), keeping spending at last year's level without new earmarks. That is also the goal of the GOP's House leadership. But because that is a very unlikely outcome, Republican reformers believe they have a lost a golden opportunity to regain their old "brand" of fiscal responsibility by fighting to the end in the budget battle.

Robert Novak

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

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