White House aides are promising that President Bush will announce “unprecedented” action against earmarks in his last State of the Union address this evening, but there are grumblings that it’s nothing more than a lame duck promise.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters Monday, “We are confirming this morning that the President in his State of the Union will announce unprecedented steps he’s taking to reform and reduce the amount of earmarks. The President will say that if these spending items are worthy, Congress should debate then in the open and hold a public vote.”
If Congress does not do so, Perino said Bush will “issue an executive order directing agencies to ignore any future earmarks included in report language.”
At the time of Perino’s press conference conservative bloggers were circulating a Wall Street Journal editorial published Monday morning skeptical of such a plan. “We're told he will tell Congress that he will veto any fiscal 2009 spending bill that doesn't cut earmarks in half from 2008 levels,” the editorial said.
In last year’s State of the Union address President Bush ordered Congress to reduce the size and number of earmarks by half, but the Office of Management and Budget said earmarks only went down 13 percent from 2007 to 2008. OMB data says there were 11,700 earmarks contained in the 2008 bills that cost $16.9 billion.
Earmark hawk Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) said an executive order would “greatly assist those of us in Congress” but didn’t believe the President was committed to reducing earmarks by half. “That assumes that we still have nearly 6,000 ‘good’ earmarks,” a statement from Flake’s office said that was emailed to reporters. “I just don’t buy that. Besides, we heard the same thing last year about cutting earmarks in half.”
Upon hearing word of the President’s proposed plan watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense issued a statement that said: “By not including this year’s spending bills, the President is passing the buck on reigning in earmarks. As a lame duck, it’s unlikely that the President will even see any of the spending bills that he wants to fix before he leaves the Oval Office. So, the promise to veto FY09 spending bills that don’t cut earmarks in half from FY08 levels becomes little more than an empty threat because Congress can just run out the clock on him.”