December 24, 2007

Bush Mulling Over The Earmark Question

George Bush will seriously consider the popular request of an executive order banning the funding of non-legislative earmarks by federal agencies, the Wall Street Journal notes in an editorial today. While some question whether the move will actually save any money, and even some Republicans question whether antagonizing Congress will be worth it, the Journal says that the White House can only benefit from such an action:

Most are listed in accompanying Appropriations Committee reports that lack the force of law. The point of this Congressional ruse, in part, is to let Members "air-drop" earmarks at the last minute and thus escape scrutiny by other Members who might try to expose their "Bridges to Nowhere" on the House or Senate floor. Mr. Bush assailed this habit in this year's State of the Union address, and the Members cheered. So why not force Congress to live up to its applause?

Some in the White House fear that such a move would sour relations with Congress, including GOP leaders who love their earmarks as much as Democrats do. We hear that senior Republicans, especially in the Senate, have told the White House that if Mr. Bush refuses to fund these earmarks, he will be courting retribution. There's a reason no Members will make this threat in public, however. They know how unpopular earmarking is with the voting public.

Meanwhile, 19 taxpayer groups and individuals have written an open letter to Mr. Bush picking up on our proposal. The letter asks the President to issue "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."

Congress would be able to rewrite the budget to add earmarks in formal legislative language. But at least then earmarks would be challengeable on the floor. Asked by CNBC's Larry Kudlow last week about earmarks, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell replied that, "Well, there certainly have been some bad earmarks in the past. But you've got to remember, you can knock out all the earmarks, and it wouldn't save any money."

McConnell's remark points out that the money has still been appropriated, whether earmarked or not. However, agencies have no requirement to spend every single dollar of appropriated funds, whereas they must spend the monies earmarked for the purposes of Congress -- at least with earmarks written into the legislation itself. We may save all $7.4 billion, a portion of it, or none at all -- but we won't save any of it without an executive order canceling the Pork Christmas.

Bush has the high road entirely open to him. Congress -- both parties included -- violated its own rules and broke their own promises in airdropping 90% of the earmarks in the conference report. They can sue to get them restored, but that will put current leadership on the record acknowledging their dishonest approach to porking up the budget. Bush can go to court and point out that Congress themselves delegitimized the process used to generate these earmarks. Would they really want to answer for that?


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