To better understand the never-ending policy struggles between the president and Congress, consider the uniquely different perspectives that both bring to the legislative process.
By virtue of his national office, a president is supposed to rise above the parochial concerns that often shape the legislation that reaches his desk. He must look to whether proposed laws serve the national interest, as seen from the 30,000-foot perspective. Members of Congress, in contrast, “are the representatives only of distinct parts … and sometimes of little more than sectional or local interests.” While they should never lose sight of national concerns, the Founding Fathers nevertheless expected lawmakers to push aggressively on behalf of local interests and constituencies.
That tension between national and parochial interests has manifested itself with a vengeance in a quiet, but potentially dramatic, internal debate now raging within the White House and on Capitol Hill over how best to handle the thousands of special-interest spending provisions -- known as “earmarks” -- which lawmakers stuffed into the gargantuan, end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill.
President Bush recently signed this $554.7 billion monster into law, but expressed profound reservations over the rampant earmarking in it. Despite repeated promises by lawmakers to kick their habit, nothing much changed over the last year. Altogether, in 2007 Congress approved over 11,900 earmarks, many for indefensible purposes.
The list is long and embarrassing but, to choose one at random, how about Rep. David Hobson’s (R-Ohio) allocation of $800,000 for a new Speedway SuperAmerica gas station, convenience store and pizza parlor on U.S. Route 42 in Wilberforce, Ohio (population: 2,000)?
This infusion of taxpayer support, a fawning report in a local paper informs us, addresses a “vitally important” need in a community “with hundreds of college students and no pizza delivery or nearby fast food options.” The president of the nearby university defended the project, noting that “students will no longer have the fright of driving with their gas light on E …”
Oh, the horror. The horror.
Little wonder that earmarks inspire widespread anger. One recent poll found that 67% of Americans oppose these special-interest provisions. Only 23% approve.
Yet lawmakers keep sneaking them in. “Over 90 percent of earmarks,” Bush complained a year ago, “never make it to the floor of the House and Senate -- they are dropped into committee reports that are not even part of the bill that arrives on my desk. You didn't vote them into law. I didn't sign them into law. Yet, they're treated as if they have the force of law.”