Last night’s State of the Union speech garnered plenty of obligatory standing ovations, but the first issue that President Bush featured has generated plenty of grumbles the next day. Neither Republicans or Democrats much cared for the scolding given during the speech on earmarks, nor on the ultimata delivered by Bush in the joint session event. Senator Thad Cochran (R-MI) bristled at the notion that the executive branch could force fiscal discipline on Congress:
While most Republicans praised Monday’s speech, Sen. Thad Cochran, the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he opposed the president’s attempts to shrink the number of earmarks or local projects sought by lawmakers in spending bills.
“Congress has the sole power under the Constitution to appropriate funds for expenditure by the federal government,” Cochran said. “I will oppose any measure which in effect transfers this power to the executive branch.” ….
Bush also ordered federal agencies to ignore future earmarks that are “airdropped” into bills without being considered in committees.
“Both Congress and the president must exercise good judgment and restraint” in spending decisions, Cochran said. But he added, “There is no magic legislation or executive quick fix.”
He doesn’t think an executive quick fix exists? Neither do I. However, the EO gives the White House a good starting place. It will force legislators to insert the language into the actual bill — where transparency rules will force them to take ownership of their earmarks.
That, of course, assumes they will follow their rules. Congress simply ignored them on the omnibus bill last month. And if the Democratic response gives any indication, they may still consider them guidelines rather than rules:
Over the last few days, we’ve learned quite a bit about what House Democrats don’t like:
• They don’t like President Bush’s vow during last night’s State of the Union address to veto any appropriations bills that don’t cut earmarks in half.
• They don’t like Bush’s plan to issue an executive order telling agencies to ignore earmarks that aren’t written into the legislative text of spending bills.
• They don’t like the House GOP’s call, made Friday night during the Republican retreat, for both sides to agree to a temporary earmark moratorium.
• They don’t like — or at least haven’t shown any enthusiasm for — Republicans’ proposal for a bipartisan select committee to recommend changes to the earmarking process.
Democrats don’t seem particularly concerned about it, either. Despite the failure of their own caucus to abide by the so-called reforms of which they’ve bragged for months, they have no desire to close the loopholes. They don’t even want to talk about it, let alone take action to reduce the problem.
Remember when the White House explained to the porkbusters that they couldn’t sandbag Congress by issuing the EO for this year’s earmarks? The message apparently got interpreted as a lack of seriousness in addressing the issue on both sides of the aisle. It’s too bad, because President Bush has at least one group in DC worried — K Street.