Czar Nancy takes over, GOP rolls over

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Robert No­vak

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 Bush’s veto strat­egy. In a lit­tle-no­ticed ma­neu­ver April 23, Mrs. 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 Mrs. 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 ac­qui- es­cence. 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 Mrs. 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 non- par­ti­san 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, Mr. Shadegg replied he did not care about gov­er­nors. “If you be­lieve Med­i­caid has gone out of con­trol,” Mr. 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 on May 1 to demon­strate in­ter­est in restor­ing an­ti­waste 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 Mr. Flake’s pro­posal failed. Vot­ing against it were Mr. 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 May 1 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.

Robert No­vak is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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