Robert Novak

Flake's most prominent competitor for Appropriations is Rep. Tom Cole, a major political figure in Oklahoma who currently heads the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). A few sensitive Republicans worry about Cole solving the NRCC's fund-raising woes by dispensing earmarks. But opposition stems mostly from the belief that Cole's NRCC chairmanship is enough for one congressman.

The most likely winner of the Appropriations derby will be Rep. Dave Reichert, the former sheriff of King County, Wash. (Seattle) who has not distinguished himself during three years in Congress and gets only a 60 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. His sole qualification appears to be that he is the most endangered Republican House member in 2008 and needs to bring home the bacon.

As far as Republicans recovering their fiscal brand, the appropriators say earmarks are strictly Washington inside baseball with no public support. They should follow Sen. John McCain on the campaign trail, as he is cheered for promising to veto bills with earmarked pork.

McCain as the party's leader is one possible new development for the earmarkers to ponder. Then there are possible new indictments tied to earmarks. In addition to Lewis, Alaska's two longtime purveyors of pork -- Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young -- are under federal investigation. Though Flake likely will be kept off the Appropriations Committee, he will not go away and will be joined this year by additional Republicans proposing elimination of individual earmarks. Flake until now has not tried to kill more than a dozen earmarks on any appropriations bill. This year, he promises to introduce "many, many more" than a dozen amendments per bill.

Ironically, the Appropriations vacancy was created by the appointment of Rep. Roger Wicker of Mississippi to the Senate. The Washington Post last week reported that Wicker late last year as an appropriator inserted a $6 million earmark for a defense firm that contributed to his campaign and was lobbied by Wicker's former chief of staff. Roger Wicker is a poster child for an earmark moratorium.

Robert Novak

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

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