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House Readies for Earmark Battle

For those of you already going through "Sopranos" withdrawal, the House floor may provide a slight fix this week.

House Republicans are planning a series of aggressive tactics later in the week when Democrats try to pass four of the annual appropriations bills, those spending measures that fund the departments of Homeland Security, Energy, Veterans Affairs and Interior as well as other federal agencies.

Republicans are threatening to force votes on hundreds of amendments to the bills and demand each of the measures to be read, word for word, on the floor before officially being considered (an act that could take hours for each bill). Their anger stems from a Democratic plan not to make public the earmarks in each of the bills, until later this year after the spending bills had been conferenced with the Senate, despite prior commitments to make these member-specific provisions open and clearly identifiable with each sponsor.

This is not quite a full-blown war with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but it's more like a "Sopranos"-equivalent of Tony and the Brooklyn mob fighting over dividing up the money from one of their shared projects. [Here at Capitol Briefing we've given the series finale mixed reviews, a B-minus, applauding the cinematic virtue of it all but questioning whether two mafia families at such a vicious war could really settle things that easily -- imagine Pelosi and Denny Hastert (R-Ill.) settling all their differences last year once Tom DeLay (R-Texas) announced his resignation!]

Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) contends that, by not identifying the earmarks until after they've come back to the House from a conference committee, there's no way of eliminating them from the overall package since those final reports are not amendable. "What they've done is set up a system where you can't get at the earmarks, you can't eliminate them," he told reporters last week.

Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) contends that Democrats are not violating their principles. Rather, as an aide told The Hill, newspaper, Obey is simply trying to make due with the time available to pass the annual spending bills. With 30,000 such earmarks requests, there isn't enough time to identify them all now, an Obey aide told The Hill.

And Democrats are never shy about mentioning the lack of virtue from which Republicans speak when bashing the earmark process. Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the ranking minority member on Appropriations, bitterly complained last week about Democrats adding $4.3 billion to the Energy bill for unspecified projects. And Boehner launched his media blitz on earmark reform in an op-ed last week in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Of course, Lewis himself is under federal investigation for his close ties to a lobbying firm whose clients, including defense contractors, received tens of millions of dollars in earmarks. And Boehner's op-ed in the Union-Tribune failed to mention ex-Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), whose singularly historic level of earmark corruption was first exposed in, of all places, the pages of the Union-Tribune.

Still, this week should provide plenty of sparks flying between the two sides, but -- like any good drama -- this is just the prelude to the finale. In this case, that's going to be an end game this fall involving Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) staring down the boss of all bosses, President Bush, who has vowed to veto bills with excessive spending.

This battle shows no sign of letting up anytime soon. It goes on and on and on and on ...

By Paul Kane  |  June 11, 2007; 3:46 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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