Robert Novak writes in the Washington Post:
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid picked up his ball and went home after his staged all-night session last week, he saved from possible embarrassment one of the least regular members of his Democratic caucus: Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. Reform Republican Tom Coburn had ready an amendment to the defense authorization bill removing Nelson’s earmark funding a Nebraska-based company whose officials include Nelson’s son. Such an effort became impossible when Reid pulled the bill.
These antics fit the continuing decline of the Senate, including an unwritten rules change requiring 60 votes to pass any meaningful bill. When I arrived on Capitol Hill 50 years ago, Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson (like Reid today) had a slim Democratic majority and faced a Republican president, but he was not burdened with the 60-vote rule. While Johnson did use chicanery, Reid resorts to brute force that shatters the Senate’s facade of civilized discourse. Reid is plotting to strip anti-earmark transparency from the final version of ethics legislation passed by the Senate and House, with tacit support from Republican senators and the GOP leadership.
The latter point, of course, is the rub. While there are many reform-minded Republicans in the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is weak on spending issues and strong on the Senate’s prerogative to pass out pork.
Still, the extent of the corruption on the Democratic side of the aisle is striking:
At stake is the fate of Coburn’s “Reid amendment,” previously passed by the Senate and so called because it would bar earmarks benefiting a senator’s family members such as Reid’s four lobbyist sons and son-in-law. Nelson’s current $7.5 million earmark for software helps 21st Century Systems Inc. (21CSI), which employs the senator’s son, Patrick Nelson, as its marketing director. The company gets 80 percent of its funds from federal grants, mostly through earmarks. With nine offices scattered among states represented by appropriators in Congress, the company has in recent years spent $1.1 million to lobby Congress and $160,000 in congressional campaign contributions. “As of April,” the Omaha World-Herald reported, “only one piece of [the company’s] software has been used — to help guard a single Marine camp in Iraq — and it was no longer in use.”
No wonder Harry Reid plans, in Novak’s words, to “eviscerate ethics legislation.”
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