For six years, a Republican dominated government increased pork barrel spending – and the Republican President showed no leadership on curbing this. AP reports that President Bush wishes to change that:
President Bush said Saturday that his administration will outline a series of changes that would clamp down on the common Capitol Hill practice of slipping pet projects into spending bills. These projects, called earmarks, are spending provisions that often are put into bills at the last minute, so they never get debated or discussed, Bush said in his weekly radio address. “It is not surprising that this often leads to unnecessary federal spending, such as a swimming pool or a teapot museum tucked into a big spending bill,” he said. The president said his administration’s proposal would make earmarks more transparent, make lawmakers more accountable for the earmarks they propose, and help reduce the overall number of earmarks. Many lawmakers claim they are better suited than others in government to know what their states need. Bush said the use of earmarks has exploded, and pointed to a Congressional Research Service report that the number of earmarks has increased from about 3,000 in 1996 to 13,000 this year. “I respect Congress’ authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce the number of earmarks,” Bush said. Many lawmakers claim they are better suited than others in government to know what their states need. Bush said the use of earmarks has exploded, and pointed to a Congressional Research Service report that the number of earmarks has increased from about 3,000 in 1996 to 13,000 this year. “I respect Congress’ authority over the public purse, but the time has come to reform the earmark process and dramatically reduce the number of earmarks,” Bush said. Democrats, who will take control of Congress on January 4, already announced their plan to wipe out billions of dollars in lawmakers’ home-state projects in unfinished spending bills. On Monday, the incoming Democratic chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations committees announced they would eliminate earmarks from the nine unfinished spending bills for the budget year that began October 1. Rep. David Obey, D-Wisconsin, and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, said they would restore earmarking in the upcoming 2008 budget cycle, but only after implementing changes. Obey said he was pleased the president supports their plan. “But it should be noted that all of the earmarks combined don’t begin to match the increase in the deficit caused by the president wasting $50 billion in supersized tax cuts for those making more than $1 million a year while other Americans sleep on the streets,” Obey said. This summer, Republicans announced changes to require spending bills to carry lists of earmarks and their sponsors. That’s a good start, Bush said, but more needs to be done by both parties. “Republicans and Democrats alike have an opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to spending restraint and good government by making earmark reform a top priority for the next Congress,” Bush said. “When it comes to spending your money, you expect us to rise above party labels.” Byrd said any effort to change the way business gets done in Washington cannot begin and end with the appropriations process. “We also must address earmarks in the tax codes which have resulted in huge loopholes for corporate America while middle-class America is left holding the bag,” Byrd said.
Senator Byrd is right in this sense – if we are going to significantly cut the deficit, eliminating earmarks is only a small first step. I hope we can trust what Bush says here and get on with a bipartisan approach to fiscal sanity. But I have one question – why did he wait six years to get serious about this (assuming he is serious)?
Update: Kevin Drum writes:
LIFE’S LITTLE MYSTERIES, #874 IN A CONTINUING SERIES….I see that President Bush devoted his radio address today to a denunciation of the evils of congressional earmarks. It’s funny that this subject never seemed to exercise him very much back when Republicans were in charge, isn’t it?