Buried deep down in a recent Politico article about budget wrangling, was this passage, which attempted to put the current omnibus bill in context [emphasis added]:
The situation is very similar to early 2003, when Republicans and the Bush administration pushed through a nearly $400 billion package after the budget process had collapsed amid partisan fighting the prior year. Filling almost 1,160 pages, that measure was even more complex, including Medicare and farm-disaster spending as well as appropriations. But it moved through the Senate in about six days, and after a quick conference with the House it was signed by Bush.
Looking back, the 2003 debate was much more substantive and focused on major accounts within the bill, rather than on the spending earmarks. By comparison, the current measure devotes substantially less money to earmarks, but that issue has come to dominate the politics so much that it has dwarfed most other issues in the six days of debate.
For some reason this spending bill was dominated by the issue of earmarks--it "dwarfed most other issues"-- as compared to Bush's 2003 spending bill. Politico got that point right. But it played dumb about the role the press played in making that a fact. It played dumb about the fact that earmarks dominated the debate because the GOP wanted them to, and the press eagerly complied.