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January 24, 2008

Novak: Business As Usual With The GOP

The House Republicans have begun their retreat meetings at Greenbrier, and Robert Novak says that's not the only context of retreat that will come of them. The GOP doesn't appear inclined to put the lessons of 2006 into play in 2008 on battling against pork, and instead will offer half-measures that will ensure business as usual on Capitol Hill:

When House Republicans convene behind closed doors today at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., they have a chance to make two bold moves to restore their reputation for fiscal responsibility. First, they could declare a one-year moratorium on Republican congressional earmarks. Second, they could name earmark reformer Rep. Jeff Flake to a vacancy on the House Appropriations Committee. In fact, they almost surely will do neither.

Instead, during the retreat Republicans are likely to adopt some limitation on earmarks that will have no public impact and will exert no pressure on the earmark-happy Democratic majority. Consideration of Flake's candidacy for Appropriations was postponed until after this week's earmark debate at the Greenbrier. But, content with a half-measure on earmarks, the House Republicans are unlikely to place Flake, an insistent reformer, in the midst of the pork-dispensing appropriators.

Instead of taking advantage of obvious public disgust with earmark-related corruption over the last two years, the Republicans will offer no significant change in direction. Even a one-year moratorium on pork won't pass muster. The fear that the GOP will have no mechanism to protect incumbencies remains too strong to overcome any momentum for reform.

Jeff Flake will almost certainly not get his requested appointment to the Appropriations Committee as a result. The GOP will probably live to regret this, and Flake has already warned them of the consequences. Instead of representing the GOP and its voluntary moratorium on a committee chaired by Democrat porker David Obey, Flake will remain on the outside fighting both parties on earmarks. Last year he offered a dozen amendments attempting to strip out pork projects. If left off the committee, he says that number will increase rapidly and include Republican projects.

The Republicans have an opportunity to lead a generational change in Congressional politics. If they skip it, the missed chance will demonstrate a lack of political courage that should lead Republicans to demand new leadership in next year's 111th Congress. Let's hope Novak called this one incorrectly.


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