January 23, 2008

Has Bush Lost His Spine On Earmarks?

The Washington Examiner wonders whether George Bush fears Congress more than his constituents in a battle over pork proliferation. As I noted yesterday, the White House appears to have backed away from issuing an executive order defunding the non-legislative earmarks in the omnibus spending bill, which account for 90% of the nine thousand pork items. Porkbusters wonder why the President won't follow a course of action that follows the law and forces Congress to adhere to its own rules:

Conservatives and good-government groups have been urging Bush since before Christmas to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to ignore earmarks contained in committee reports that are not attached to legislation voted into law. Bush has previously picked fights with Congress on executive privilege issues. Yet he seems uncharacteristically reluctant to do so now, despite being on legal grounds declared solid by none other than the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Supreme Court.

So what is Bush waiting for?

Signing such an executive order would eliminate most earmarks and force Congress to clean up its act. By funneling billions of dollars to favored — and often secret — earmark recipients, members of Congress bypass their own legislative process, as well as the competitive bidding typically required in the executive branch.

Bush has received warnings from Congressional leadership in both parties that cancellation of the earmarks would lead to angry relations from members in 2008. This amounts to a type of extortion. How much should non-angry relations cost the American taxpayer? Is it really worth the $16.7 billion contained in these earmarks for everyone to have a Rodney King moment and get along -- for about a day?

Or are there other considerations? Last night, the Politico reported that the Democrats in the House have stalled on voting for contempt citations against Harriet Miers and Josh Bolten over the firings of presidentially-appointed federal prosecutors. Their leadership says they've put it off to keep a bipartisan effort on an economic stimulus alive, but privately admit they don't have the votes to approve the citations. Perhaps the White House figures that the $16.7 billion has convinced enough Representatives to vote down the citations.

Is that unfair? Well, when our elected officials demand that they keep their money in exchange for doing the nation's business, they have identified themselves as commodities to be bought and sold, if not the explicit basis of the sales. If Bush wants to end that kind of politics using the clear authority he has to do so, he will have no better opportunity.


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