Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- The congressional Republican establishment's charade, pretending to crack down on spending earmarks while actually preserving their uncontrolled addiction to pork, faces embarrassment this week when the Democratic-designed budget is brought to the Senate floor. The party's presidential nominee-presumptive, Sen. John McCain, is an uncompromising pork buster with no use for the evasions by Republican addicts on Capitol Hill.

Sen. Jim DeMint, a first-term reform Republican from South Carolina, will propose a no-loopholes one-year moratorium on earmarks as a budget amendment. McCain has announced his support for the DeMint amendment and will co-sponsor it. DeMint wants to coordinate McCain's visits from the campaign trail to the Senate floor so the candidate can be there to speak for and vote for the moratorium.

The irony could hardly be greater. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, an ardent earmarker, is smart enough politically to realize how unpopular the practice is with the Republican base. Consequently, McConnell combines anti-earmark rhetoric with evasive tactics to save pork. But McCain, surely not the presidential candidate that McConnell wanted, is leading his party with a pledge to veto any bill containing earmarks. McConnell is running for re-election from Kentucky bragging about the pork he has brought the state.

McConnell has appointed a "task force" of five Republican senators to study earmarks, headed by the universally respected Richard Lugar of Indiana. But Lugar never has shown much interest in the subject. The dominant member is Thad Cochran of Mississippi, ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee and the Senate's reigning king of pork. Cochran, who not long ago called McCain unfit to be president, secured $774 million in earmarks this year. Add earmarks of three other task-force members -- Lugar, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Mike Crapo of Idaho -- and the task force accounts for more than $1.1 billion in pork.

The fifth task-force member is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, DeMint's partner in pork-fighting and McCain's supporter for the presidential nomination. How could Cochran and Coburn agree on earmarks? The answer is that they cannot agree. "Everyone knows," a Senate reformer told me, "Cochran will never allow his right to earmark to be diminished." Since McConnell insists on "consensus" without a majority or minority report, all that will come out of the task force is a call for "transparency."


Robert Novak

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

 
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