Friday, December 17, 2010

Mitch McConnell's victory

Kimberley Strassel reminds us once again of the too-clever-by-half tactic that the Democrats used to come up with this omnibus bill. Remember all those arguments in the past week about how many GOP earmarks were in the bill? Well, that was part of the plan.
This week Democrats unveiled a $1.2 trillion omnibus, legislation as pure an insult to the electorate as it gets. It was a 1,924-page monstrosity that nobody had time to read. It took 11 spending bills that Democrats couldn't be bothered to pass individually and crammed them into one oozing ball of pork and bad policy, going beyond even the obscene budget of 2010.

Yet to this legislative Frankenstein Democrats carefully attached the spenders' equivalent of crack cocaine. To wit, omnibus author and Hawaii Democrat Daniel Inouye dug up earmark requests that Senate Republicans had made in the past year (prior to their self-imposed ban) and, unasked, included them in the bill. He lavished special, generous attention—$1 billion worth of it—on some reliable GOP earmark junkies: Mississippi's Thad Cochran got $512 million; Utah's Bob Bennett, $226 million; Maine's Susan Collins, $114 million; Missouri's Kit Bond, $102 million; Ohio's George Voinovich, $98 million; and Alaska's Lisa Murkowski, $80 million.

The effect of this dope—just sitting there, begging for a quick inhale—on earmarkers was immediate. Two seconds into the sweats and shaking hands, nine Republicans let Mr. Reid know they'd be open to this bill.

Democrats were euphoric. An omnibus victory, they knew, would subject Republicans to an ugly PR hit. True, the omnibus would pass primarily with Democratic votes. But the headlines would focus on the handful of Republicans who provided the final votes and undermined the GOP's spending message. GOP support for this bill would also tarnish what goodwill Republicans earned for their self-imposed earmark ban.
Victory seemed within reach. And those GOP earmarkers would help get through the real prize of the omnibus - the funding for Obamacare.
It's also why Mr. Inouye made sure his spending omnibus included more than $1 billion to ramp up ObamaCare—including money to enforce the law's new insurance mandates, to implement Medicaid expansion, to fund some of the 159 new entities created under the law, and even to create a public health slush fund. Republican votes would have abetted ObamaCare and tied House GOP hands until September, when the omnibus ran out.
But it didn't work and the credit really goes to that recovering earmarker, Mitch McConnell. He introduced his one-page continuing resolution so the media would have that striking contrast between his proposal and Harry Reid's. But more importantly, he spoke with those Republicans who had indicated they'd support the omnibus and persuaded them to change their minds. He really has done an admirable job of holding together his minority caucus to oppose the Democrats on the stimulus, Obamacare, taxes, and this omnibus. Of course, it might be easier to hold together a minority party in the Senate than the majority. Reid was having problems holding his troops together to support the omnibus. We'll see how the two leaders do going forward from here, but it is worth it to pause and praise Mitch McConnell for his leadership on this bill.