“… Lawmakers, including the House Republican whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, have cautioned the White House that a furor over earmarks could upend Mr. Bush’s hopes for cooperation with Congress on other issues, including efforts to revive the economy…”
Translation: Congress is willing to hold the whole economy hostage unless they get their pork. Bottom line; Bush gets his wars and Congress gets its pork.
Earmarks Seen Likely to Continue, but With Details
By ROBERT PEAR, Published: January 22, 2008
WASHINGTON — President Bush is unlikely to defy Congress on spending billions of dollars earmarked for pet projects, but he will probably insist that lawmakers provide more justification for such earmarks in the future, administration officials said Monday.
Fiscal conservatives in Congress and budget watchdogs have been urging Mr. Bush to issue an executive order instructing agencies to disregard the many earmarks listed just in committee reports, not in the text of legislation.
More than 90 percent of earmarks are specified that way, not actually included in the texts. White House officials say such earmarks are not legally binding on the president.
Congressional leaders of both parties, who are scheduled to meet on Tuesday with the president, said Mr. Bush would provoke a huge outcry on Capitol Hill if he ignored those earmarks.
Lawmakers, including the House Republican whip, Roy Blunt of Missouri, have cautioned the White House that a furor over earmarks could upend Mr. Bush’s hopes for cooperation with Congress on other issues, including efforts to revive the economy.
Moreover, Republicans shudder at the possibility that a Democratic president might reject all their earmarks.
In effect, the White House is avoiding a clash with Congress over specific projects while preserving the president’s ability to demand a further reduction in earmarks generally.
A band of Republican lawmakers led by Representative Jeff Flake of Arizona and Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Jim DeMint of South Carolina has attacked earmarks, saying they waste money and corrupt the legislative process. But a larger number of lawmakers avidly seek them and boast of success in securing money for constituents. Republicans received about 40 percent of the earmarks in the spending bills for 2008.
A new tally by the White House Office of Management and Budget shows that the 2008 spending bills signed by Mr. Bush include more than 11,700 earmarks, totaling $16.9 billion. By the White House count, the number was down 1,754 from 2005, and the amount of money was down $2.1 billion, or 11 percent.
Using different definitions, some groups have come up with different figures, showing a larger decline in the dollar value of earmarks. Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog, estimates the reduction at 25 percent, half the goal set by Mr. Bush.
The earmarks for this year set aside money for museums and bicycle trails, control of agricultural pests like the emerald ash borer beetle and aid to specific military contractors producing items like missiles, munitions and “merino wool boot socks.”
Mr. Bush recently mocked earmarks for a prison museum in Kansas and a sailing school in California.
Nearly one-fifth of the earmarks and more than one-third of the money were in the Defense Department appropriations bill.
On Dec. 20, Mr. Bush instructed Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to “review options for dealing with the wasteful spending” in earmarks.
At the same time, 19 groups urged Mr. Bush to shut “the Congressional favor factory” by directing agencies to disregard earmarks tucked into committee reports.
“Such an action is within your constitutional powers and would strike a blow for fiscal responsibility,” said a letter from the groups, which included the American Conservative Union, the National Taxpayers Union and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The groups pressed their case in a recent meeting with Barry Jackson, a top aide to the president, but they said they received no assurances.
In his State of the Union message last year, Mr. Bush said: “Over 90 percent of earmarks never make it to the floor of the House and Senate. They are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You didn’t vote them into law. I didn’t sign them into law. Yet, they’re treated as if they have the force of law. The time has come to end this practice.”
White House lawyers have found many court decisions holding, as the Supreme Court said in 2005, that “restrictive language contained in committee reports is not legally binding.”
The comptroller general, the nation’s top auditor, and the Congressional Research Service agree with that position, as a matter of law. But in setting forth that view in a 1993 case, the Supreme Court observed, “An agency’s decision to ignore Congressional expectations may expose it to grave political consequences.”
Mr. Blunt, the Republican whip, said that any White House actions were likely to be prospective, setting standards for future earmarks. The purpose, he said, would be to ensure that a project “meets the criteria the taxpayers want it to meet before the money is distributed.”
Grover G. Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, a coalition of taxpayer groups, said he expected the White House to establish rules and procedures to screen out “the most egregious earmarks.”
The sponsor of an earmark might, for example, be required to provide a written justification, including requests for the money from local officials, universities or companies that would benefit.
Presidential candidates should be asked whether they would keep such standards, Mr. Norquist said.
Even in Alaska, long dependent on federal largess, officials are trying to wean the state off earmarks. In her State of the State address last week, Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, said, “We cannot and must not rely so heavily on federal government earmarks.”