Paul Jacob

The Democrats took over Congress pledging to curb the practice of earmarks.

They didn't quite succeed.

The omnibus spending bill they produced in December was filled with spending projects of a less-than-national character, most seen by no congressperson but the original politician who placed it in the bill. How many of these earmarks? Nine thousand or more, hitting over 11,000 for the year.

So, just another sad story of fiscal irresponsibility?

No. The story doesn't end when Congress cooks up a bill and sends it to the White House. And this time out there's a wrinkle in the politics of it all.

Sometime back Senator Jim DeMint asked Congress's research organization to prepare a report on the legality of these earmarks, and on the legality of the Executive Branch just ignoring them.

The researchers' verdict? Since most of this pork barrel spending is placed not in the bill itself, but in subsidiary explanatory reports, their status as law falls way short of constitutionality.

So the president could easily issue an Executive Order instructing his underlings simply to ignore the earmarks. They weren't placed in the omnibus bill as real laws, so it would be just fine to disregard them as the extra-legal finaglings they are.

This is not a veto. According to this line of research, most earmarks do not rise to the level of legality to require a veto. The proper response to off-the-books faux-authorizations to spend? A studied snubbing of each offending earmark.

It's not just DeMint's office that has counseled this course. A coalition of taxpayer organizations has urged the president to work up a little backbone and stand up to the spendthrifts in Congress. The groups sent a letter to the president, demanding . . . er, asking that he

follow through by issuing 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.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.