Earmarks were supposed to be a thing of the past for Republicans after allegations of corruption cost the GOP control of Congress in 2006. Throughout 2007, Republicans acknowledged repeatedly that straying from principles had hurt them dearly. But changing their profligate ways proved difficult: Just 14 Senate Republicans voted against the pork-laden omnibus spending bill this month.
With 2008 on the horizon and President Bush heading into the final year of his presidency, here’s one New Year’s resolution all Republicans ought to make: We’ll shut down the favor factory that churns out earmarks.
This year’s $555 billion omnibus spending bill won approval just two days after it was introduced. This modest document ran more than 3,400 pages, so lawmakers hardly had time to read the bill, let alone comprehend its nearly 10,000 earmarks. The earmarks alone stand to cost taxpayers at least $7.5 billion.
With many Senate Republicans unwilling to make a stand, fiscal conservatives are now pinning their hopes on President Bush. Even though he signed the omnibus bill last week, he used the occasion to suggest he might cancel lawmakers’ pork projects. Budget hawks were encouraged.
“Earlier this year, President Bush and Democratic congressional leaders pledged to cut the number of pork projects in half -- from the 2005 peak of 13,492 to 6,746,” wrote Brian Riedl of The Heritage Foundation. “While Congress brazenly broke its pledge to the American people, the president’s hands are not necessarily tied.”
Bush has several options at his disposal: canceling non-binding earmarks by executive order; refusing to implement earmarks that are not sufficiently specific; and banning “phone-marking.” Fiscal conservatives couldn’t ask for a better way to ring in the New Year than a presidential resolution that tells spendthrift congressional appropriators “enough is enough.”
Any move Bush makes will almost certainly inspire a backlash from appropriators on Capitol Hill. Even the Christmas holiday couldn’t temper the anger of some earmark-loving lawmakers who were reportedly lobbying to get the White House to drop any plans to defund earmarks.