December 21, 2007

Will Bush Cancel Congress' Christmas? (Bumped)

The omnibus spending bill made its way down Pennsylvania Avenue this week, and it could have slid all the way down on the grease it contains from over 9,000 earmarks. In remarks yesterday, George Bush warned that his budget director will look at ways to eliminate wasteful spending, and thanks to Congressional dishonesty, he may have a way to do it:

The White House threatened yesterday to cancel thousands of pet projects that Congress inserted into a massive spending bill before leaving town this week, a move that could provoke a fierce battle with lawmakers in both parties who jealously guard their ability to steer money to favored purposes.

At an end-of-the-year news conference, President Bush chastised Democratic leaders for failing to live up to their campaign promise to curb so-called earmarks and said he has ordered his budget director "to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill." Aides later said those options would include simply disregarding earmarks not included in binding legislative language. ...

His sharp message on earmarks, though, stirred consternation on Capitol Hill and anticipation among fiscal conservatives. Calling Congress irresponsible for lumping 11 spending bills into a single, 1,400-page measure nearly three months into the fiscal year, he added, "Another thing that's not responsible is the number of earmarks that Congress included." While Congress "made some progress" curbing pet projects, he said that "they have not made enough progress."

Bush said he asked Jim Nussle, director of the Office of Management and Budget, to draft possible actions to take, but he would not elaborate. One option, aides said, would be to ignore the vast majority of earmarks that are included only in conference reports rather than in the appropriations bill itself. Although traditionally honored, language in such reports is not legally binding.

Congress can blame itself for leaving this loophole, and it stems from their eagerness to airdrop earmarks rather than account for them as promised. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid passed reform rules that supposedly barred earmarks in conference reports. However, 90% of the earmarks in the omnibus bill never entered the legislative language, making a mockery of their claims to reform.

Brian Riedl explains the issue at Heritage:

Most earmarks are not written into the actual appropriations bills that are signed into law. Rather, they are included in conference reports, which are explanatory statements that accompany the legislation to the President's desk. Because they are not technically part of the bill, the Executive Branch is not legally bound to implement conference reports. The President could simply direct agencies to ignore the earmarks listed in the conference reports. The funds would still be spent, but the agencies would have the discretion to distribute the funds by merit rather than congressional diktat.

It is not clear whether the President has that option this year. The appropriations bills' texts contain several sections stating that a certain amount of a program's budget "shall be available for projects and in the amounts specified in the explanatory statement described in section...." This may effectively make many of the earmarks in the conference reportslegally binding. The White House, as well as Members of Congress, should investigate whether that is the case. If they determine the conference reports' earmarks remain non-binding, then President Bush should issue an Executive Order cancelling all 11,331 earmarks and requiring thatall government grants be distributed by merit or statutory formula.

An executive order, meanwhile, would have the effect that Congress supposedly intended with its rules changes this year. It wouldn't apply to one budget year, but to all subsequent budgets after its issuance, if Bush desires. An EO would prevent any federal agencies from spending money on conference report earmarks until Bush or his successors rescinded the EO.

That would put Congress and the porkers at a huge disadvantage. Congressional leadership would have to take action to restore earmarks produced in a process they specifically disavowed at the beginning of the session. They would have to argue against Bush taking the same discipline to budgeting that they themselves endorsed. A future President would have to rescind an order to enable unaccountable pork-barrel processes and then stand for election on that record.

Undoubtedly, an executive order to this effect would create a huge schism between the White House and Capitol Hill. Given that the current schism could hardly be wider, this seems like a propitious moment for such an action -- and to re-establish some baseline credibility for Republicans on fiscal discipline and ethics. Let's get the EO and end the pork-barrel Christmas.

UPDATE: The National Taxpayers Union agrees:

Congress has already left town after passing a half-trillion-dollar omnibus appropriations bill, but President Bush can still spare taxpayers from many pork-barrel projects in the legislation, according to the 362,000-member National Taxpayers Union (NTU). Even though Bush is signing the bill, NTU today gave a thumbs-up to the President's suggestion that he may order federal agencies to ignore some of the 9,000-plus "earmarks" that Congress concocted during the process of enacting the legislation.

I'd say ignore them all, and let Congress pay the price for its dishonest behavior.

UPDATE: Successors, not antecedents, as my good friend Linda Seebach rightfully reminds me.

UPDATE II & BUMP: Porkbusters has a letter that will go to the President, asking for the EO:

On December 20, you stated that you were "instructing the budget director to review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill." We applaud you for this leadership, and ask that you follow through by issuing an executive order formally directing all Federal agencies to ignore non-legislative earmarks tucked into committee reports and statements of managers. Such an action is within your Constitutional powers, and would strike a blow for fiscal responsibility now while setting a valuable precedent for the future.

Tell Congress and the American public that the era of earmarks is over, and that the Congressional "favor factory" which mints earmarks is closed. The American taxpayer will applaud such an action, as will the many honest legislators in Congress who are trying to fight the broken and corrupt appropriations machine. We hope that you embrace this opportunity, and thank you for your leadership on this issue.

You can do your part by calling the White House and politely requesting an end to the Earmark Christmas. The numbers are 202-456-2617 and 202-456-2130 (fax).


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Will Bush Cancel Congress' Christmas? (Bumped):

» Bush Just Won’t Be That Lame Duck POTUS! He Took The Pork Right Outta Their Mouths from Right Voices
Here were his words of warning: I’m disappointed that Congress resorted to passing all this spending in one massive, more than 1,400-page omnibus bill, rather than considering and passing individual spending bills in the normal process. The omni... [Read More]

» Do it, Mr. President! Do it!! from Public Secrets: from the files of the Irishspy
You know you want to. With a single signature, you could end the era of earmarks. You could ruin Christmas for Pelosi, Murtha, Stevens, Obey, Lott, and all those other hogs at the trough who think the federal treasury is [Read More]

Please note that unverified Disqus users will have comments held in moderation. Please visit Disqus to register and verify your account. Comments from verified users will appear immediately.