A Failed Congressional Ploy
By Robert Novak
The ploy had been hatched behind closed doors by Democratic leaders of both houses. A pork-laden appropriations bill filled with $1 billion in earmarks would combine with veto-proof spending for veterans. Instead, the two measures were decoupled in a Senate party-line vote last Tuesday.
The Democratic scheme to present President George W. Bush with a bill that he could not veto seemed a clever strategy, but it was based on presumption of Republican ignorance and cowardice. As late as last Monday, savvy GOP Senate staffers predicted Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's decoupling motion would fail. In fact, she did not lose a Republican senator, as Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to keep the two bills together.
During a confusing week on Capitol Hill, lawmakers engaged in games difficult for insiders to understand and incomprehensible for ordinary voters. As the first Congress controlled by Democrats since 1994 nears the end of its first year, the desire to bring home the bacon trumped concern over the falling dollar, the crisis in Pakistan and the continuing conflict in Iraq.
The reason that not one of 13 appropriations bills had reached the president's desk was Bush's threat to veto at least 10 of them. Doubting their ability to override these vetoes, Democratic leaders conjured up combined packages that Bush would dare not veto. The earmark-heavy appropriations bill for the Labor and Health and Human Services (HHS) departments would be joined with the Defense bill, which funds Iraq, and with Military Construction, which contains money for veterans.