This column frequently extols the virtues of self-control, responsibility and discipline, both individually and institutionally. Consequently, I have been critical of the fiscal irresponsibility displayed by Congress and President George W. Bush over the past several years. Neither has shown the restraint necessary to rein in the Federal Government's deficit spending and begin paying down the national debt. Instead, the focus has been on expanding social programs at taxpayers' expense and on securing enough financial goodies for the local folks in Congressional districts to guarantee their support for incumbent politicians.
So I was pleasantly surprised when President Bush brought up the subject of Congressional earmarks in his final State of the Union speech on Monday. Republicans were criticized extensively during the 2006 Congressional elections for their spending habits. The President signed an executive order on Tuesday directing Federal agencies to ignore any future earmarks included in report language, although not in the actual text of appropriations legislation, which is generally how earmarks receive their designation. The practice, which President Bush criticized for its lack of transparency, is a deceitful way for lawmakers to secure special funding without having to make it public during a vote. While signing the executive order President Bush stated, "it's very important for Congress to earn the trust of the American taxpayer, and one way [it] should do so is to end the practice of earmarks. Now, I said last year that [Congress] should voluntarily cut the number [of earmarks] in half - not only the number, but the amount of earmarks in half. They chose not to do so. So last night I told the Congress that I would veto any bill, appropriations bill, that does not cut the number and the amount of earmarks in half."