Obama, House Democrats Hit Earmarks

Posted March 11, 2009 at 10:36am

President Barack Obama on Wednesday proposed ideas for limiting the inappropriate use of earmarks, even as he offered an unusual defense of the practice.

Earlier Wednesday, House Democratic leaders announced they would tighten the rules governing earmarks — including a requirement that companies competitively bid for earmarked funds.

Obama echoed the call for competitive bids and threw his support behind the plan announced by the Democratic leaders.

In the past, Obama has clashed with top Congressional Democrats over earmarks, arguing in a recent meeting that they can easily be used as a political weapon by opponents. Democratic leaders argued that they are a necessary part of legislating.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) announced the new earmark rule alongside a provision giving the executive branch 20 days to review earmark requests. The call came just moments before Obama took to the mics to lay out his earmark crackdown plan.

“These reforms, when combined with previous reforms since Democrats took control of the House in 2007, protect the integrity of the process and assure the proper use of taxpayers’ money,— Obey said in a statement.

Pelosi said the additional measures would “ensure accountability for Congressional earmarks at every step of the process.—

At the White House, Obama noted that earmarks can be a force for good.

“Now, let me be clear: Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that’s why I have opposed their outright elimination,— Obama said. “There are times where earmarks may be good on their own but, in the context of a tight budget, might not be our highest priority.—

Obama said he will reluctantly sign the spending bill that funds the government for the rest of the fiscal year, despite a proliferation of earmarks on the measure.

“I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it’s necessary for the ongoing functions of government, and we have a lot more work to do,— he said. “But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change.—

In his remarks, Obama noted the downside of earmarking.

“The fact is that, on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste and fraud and abuse,— he said. “Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator rather than the public interest.—

The president noted progress that has been made by Congress cleaning up the use of earmarks but argued more needs to be done.

“Earmarks that Members do seek must be aired on those Members’ Web sites in advance, so the public and the press can examine them and judge their merits for themselves,— he said. “Each earmark must be open to scrutiny at public hearings, where Members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.—