Going to Conference

As the summer comes to a close, attention turns to the final stretch of this session of the Congress. Democrats are poised to go to conference on two important bills, the omnibus spending bill and the energy bill. Expect legislative shenanigans to rule as the more liberal Democratic leadership attempts to impose its views on a more moderate majority of the Congress.

The omnibus appropriations legislation, which hasn’t taken shape yet, will be a cesspool of pork barrel projects, misguided policy and new language on the war. Because of positive reports from the field in Iraq, it is not clear how hard a stance the Democratic leaders can take on a pullout date. Sen. John Warner has given the Democrats some cover, but other Democrats have blown that cover by intimating that the surge has actually worked.

If the Democrats don’t offer a hard pullout date, their left wing will go crazy. But in order to get the votes to authorize such a pullout date, the Democratic leadership will have to do some horse-trading, which means even more pork.

Look for John Murtha to drive this train. He is a master at horse trading, and of course, he is exceptionally good at keeping some of the pork for himself.

On the energy bill, Nancy Pelosi did a clever thing. She went to conference on a “no-energy” energy bill that basically postponed all the big decisions until later. For example, she didn’t have the votes on CAFE standards, so she bypassed that debate until conference on that contentious issue.

Will the moderate Democrats who support a more moderate approach to CAFE, Hill-Terry, have the courage to vote against an energy conference report that includes Senate language on fuel efficiency standards? The Senate language achieves what the most rabid environmentalists — and the Democratic leadership — want, but cripples the domestic car industry and tilts the playing field to Asian car manufacturers.

John Dingell has the votes in the House to protect the domestic manufacturers, but will he control the conference committee or will the control shift to Pelosi and Harry Reid?

The Democrats promised to reform the way Congress operates, promising to let the bodies work their will. But as the Congress returns this fall, I think you will see the Democratic leadership attempt to impose their will — and their far more liberal views — on a more moderate majority. They will do it through the conference process and use pork to buy their way to a victory.

Thankfully, President Bush still has a veto pen.