WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Operating outside public view, the House Democratic majority is taking extraordinary steps to maintain spending as usual while awaiting a Democrat as president. Remarkably, the supine House Republican minority hardly resists and even collaborates with its supposed adversaries.
There has been little or no public Republican protest over seizure of the appropriating process by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her clique. For the second straight year, no appropriations bill other than defense is scheduled for passage. Instead, spending details are crafted in the Speaker's Office, negating President George W. Bush's veto strategy. In a little-noticed maneuver April 23, Pelosi won passage of a bill preventing Medicaid billions from being saved through Bush administration regulations. Despite the GOP leadership's nominal opposition, House Republicans voted for higher spending by two to one.
Adding in Pelosi's unprecedented tactics in blocking the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, she has in 16 months established herself as one of the most powerful speakers ever. The stunning aspect of Czar Nancy's rule is the degree of Republican acquiescence. Neither losing their House majority in 2006 after 12 years nor facing more serious losses in 2008 has toughened the Republicans.
Republicans have just caught on that Pelosi plans for the second straight year to substitute a continuing resolution for individual appropriations bills. Continuing resolutions in the past consisted of a single sentence keeping spending at the previous year's level, but these documents have become complicated descriptions of spending. At year's end, the Democrats devise an omnibus bill wrapping up all domestic spending -- hamstringing the lame-duck Republican president's resolve to veto generous Democratic appropriations bills, one by one.
Less expansive but more audacious is what Democrats are doing to Bush administration Medicaid rules, which would impose fiscal integrity on states tapping into the federal funds for that runaway program. The bill passed by the House April 23 would "temporarily" suspend those rules through March 2009, and the plan is for Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton as president to get rid of them for good. Because the president is not subject to "pay-go" requiring offsets for lost revenue, the government would lose $17.8 billion over five years and $42.2 billion over 10 years, according to nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates.
With state governors lobbying for the suspension, the House Energy and Commerce Committee was all for it. Two Republican committee members told me they had received the high sign from the party leadership that it was all right to vote for the cleverly titled "Medicaid Safety Net Act" (sponsored by Democratic committee chairman John Dingell).
Conservative opposition changed the climate. Inside the committee, John Shadegg of Arizona and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee turned against it -- arousing the ire of the committee's ranking Republican, Joe Barton of Texas. When Barton argued that all 50 governors support the bill, Shadegg replied he did not care about governors. "If you believe Medicaid has gone out of control," Shadegg told me, "why would you vote for this bill?"
In a closed-door House Republican conference before the April 23 vote, Minority Whip Roy Blunt opposed the bill on procedural grounds because there was no opportunity for amendments. All Republican leaders voted against the bill, but their vaunted whip operation was dormant. With a rare opportunity to go on record against entitlements, House Republicans voted 128 to 62 for spending. Democrats were unanimous as the bill passed 349 to 62.
House Republicans had another chance last Thursday to demonstrate interest in restoring anti-waste credentials. Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona offered a proposal to keep the individual limit of direct farm payments at the current $40,000 instead of raising it to $60,000, as the House did earlier. The state of the GOP is indicated by the fact that the 104 to 86 vote by Republicans was seen as progress, while Flake's proposal failed. Voting against it were Blunt, Republican Conference Chairman Adam Putnam and Republican campaign chairman Tom Cole.
Another motion to lower farm subsidies, by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, was pending Thursday afternoon when the House adjourned for its usual long weekend of fundraising, politicking and recreation. Unchanged in Nancy Pelosi's House is bipartisan devotion to the three-day week.