GOP finds some backbone, but will it last?

A dramatic lame-duck end to the historically unpopular 111th Congress does not a successful 112th Congress make, but it could happen if Hill Republicans learn from their mistakes.

They lost control of Congress in 2006 largely because they talked the talk of limited government, but mostly walked arm-in-arm with Democrats in supporting massive increases in federal spending, regulation and debt. Since then, it's been a desperate struggle, with multiple setbacks along the way, thanks to the ever-present and addictive allure of Washington Spending Disease. But the 2010 election, which gave the GOP control of the House, has produced some very heartening signs that Republicans are regaining their principled roots and political bearings.

The most encouraging evidence here is the remarkable turnaround among House Republicans on the issue of earmarks. As The Examiner's Byron York reported Friday, House GOPers have gone from blindly wallowing in pork, in the mistaken belief that it would assure re-election, to restricting themselves to a few bacon strips. In the Senate, even such devoted Republican porkers as Mississippi's Thad Cochran found the political courage to oppose the Democrats' $1.2 trillion omnibus spending bill despite its containing more than 6,600 earmarks, many of which were sought by GOPers. The result, as York reported, is that “Democrats remain raging spenders, while Republicans have made enormous strides in cleaning up their act. In the Senate, the GOP made only one-third as many earmark requests as Democrats for 2011, and in the House, Republicans have nearly given up earmarking altogether — while Democrats roll on.”

Congressional Republicans are manning up in other ways. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for example, was forced to recognize political reality and withdraw the omnibus proposal when it became clear that the half a dozen or so GOP senators who often vote with Democrats weren't going to be there this time. Reid got his wake-up call after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell applied a brand of persuasive magic not seen in the Senate since the days when Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson famously cajoled recalcitrant senators with jabbing fingers in the chest and other more fearsome inducements.

There have been disappointments, to be sure, most notably in House Speaker-to-be John Boehner's decision to install one of the GOP's most infamous porkmeisters, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. But Boehner promises to keep a tight leash on Rogers and the dozen Appropriations panel subcommittee “cardinals.” Here's hoping Rogers doesn't ultimately give Boehner — and the rest of us — fresh reasons to weep in 2011.

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