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Publication: Conservative Review
Business as Usual GOP

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                   January 25, 2008

Business as Usual GOP
By Robert D. Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. - When House Republicans convene behind 
closed doors today (Thursday) at the Greenbrier in White 
Sulphur Springs, W.V., 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 anti-earmark reformer Rep. Jeff Flake to 
a vacancy on the House Appropriations Committee. In fact, 
almost surely they will do neither. 

Instead, the retreat is likely to adopt some limitation on 
earmarks with no public impact and exerting 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 will not place insistent reformer Flake in 
the midst of the pork-dispensing appropriators. 


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Staring into a 2008 election abyss, Republicans lost 
credibility as upholders of lean government by sponsoring 
profligate pork barrel spending during 12 years in the 
congressional majority and have not reformed since the 
2006 Democratic takeover. The message out of West Virginia 
this week predictably will be business as usual. 

Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Appropriations Committee's rank-
ing Republican, leads fellow appropriators against the 
moratorium. They are joined by the most seriously 
challenged Republican incumbents, who see political 
salvation in bringing home the bacon to their districts, 
and principles be damned. 

If the moratorium were adopted, it would make sense to 
put Flake on the Appropriations Committee to harass its 
irascible, earmark-loving Democratic chairman, Rep. 
David Obey, without offending GOP appropriators. But 
if Republicans have not foresworn pork, Flake as an 
appropriator would be on a collision course with Lewis. 
Under federal investigation for earmarks, Lewis has 
lost his customary California cool on the floor when 
Flake has challenged his pork projects. 

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Flake, a four-term congressman from Arizona who ran the 
Goldwater Institute in Phoenix before his election, is 
usually a dependable party man and is personally well 
liked. But the Republican Party, preferring to operate 
as a secretive private corporation, deplores Flake for 
discussing the GOP affinity for pork in public instead 
of closed forums such as this week's session at the 

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 congress-

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 qualifi-
cation appears to be that he is the most endangered 
Republican House member in 2008 and needs to bring home 
the bacon. 

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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 develop-
ment 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. 

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