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Bush Surrenders in Earmarks Battle

Porkbusters A Washington Examiner editorial asks, “Has Bush lost his spine on earmarks?” It calls on the president “to make good on his promise to ‘end this practice’ once and for all.”

This, of course, presumes Bush had a spine to lose on this issue, which seems to rely on facts not in evidence. Certainly, nothing in his seven years as president would lead me to believe that he’s concerned about fiscal responsibility.

Mark Tapscott, the Examiner‘s editorial page editor, provides some background on his personal blog.

Andrew Moylan of the National Taxpayers Union reports lots of buzz on Capitol Hill about President Bush’s apparent decision to not sign an Executive Order that could kill the majority of earmarks from the $515 billion omnibus spending bill approved last year.

Such an Executive Order would direct executive branch agencies to ignore all earmarks air-dropped into the bill via committee reports. A recent opinion from the Congressional Research Service noted that such earmarks would not be binding because they weren’t voted on by both houses of Congress and included in the actual legislative text signed by the president, as required by the Constitution.

Adding to the buzz is a New York Times story today in which House Minority Whip Roy Blunt is reported cautioning Bush against signing the Executive Order because “a furor over earmarks could upend Mr. Bush’s hopes for cooperation with Congress on other issues, including efforts to revive the economy.”

The Times added this even more telling statement: “Moreover, Republicans shudder at the possibility that a Democratic president might reject all their earmarks. In effect, the White House is avoiding a clash with Congress over specific projects while preserving the president’s ability to demand a further reduction in earmarks generally.”

This is hardly surprising. Of course legislators are going to scream bloody murder over a threat to take away one of their cherished perquisites of office that happens to be one of their primary tools for keeping power. And it’s perhaps asking too much of a lame duck president who 1) isn’t a fiscal conservative by any stretch and 2) is hovering in the low 30’s in the polls and 3) is trying to keep Congress on board his more important priorities (such as funding the Iraq War) to make his stand here.

This is especially true given the politics. The Examiner editorial begins, “Public anger over earmarks cost Republicans their majority in Congress in 2006.” There may be a technical sense in which that’s true, since backlash over reckless spending presumably played a factor in a handful of races and the GOP lost control of the Senate by just one seat. But the vast majority of voters have no idea what an “earmark” is; it’s certainly not their number one voting issue.

If the public understood the process better — which is the goal of Tapscott and the larger Porkbusters movement — they’d certainly be appalled. It’s a corrupt and broken system. At the same time, though, people love it when their congressman brings the bacon home to their district. It’s only bad when those other congressmen do it.

So long as the federal government has billions to throw around in pet projects, congressmen will be fighting for their share.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. rodney dill says:

    I think he would be more likely to issue an executive order to end earmarks after the elections if a Democrat is elected. The Democrat president would then need to issue an order to revoke Bush’s order.

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  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Certainly, nothing in his seven years as president would lead me to believe that he’s concerned about fiscal responsibility.

    His father’s Hamiltonian supporters thrust GWB into the presidency without understanding just how Jacksonian he is. Credit is a sacrament for Jacksonians.

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  3. Conservatives Push Back on Earmarks…

    The White House floated a trial balloon yesterday through the New York Times, suggesting that it wouldn’t defy Congress by ignoring the earmarks contained in the FY08 omnibus bill, but instead would insist that some kind of reform be made in the futur…

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  4. yetanotherjohn says:

    My Machiavellian side would make a Solomon decision and split the baby in twain. Issue an executive order that instructed the cabinet officers to review the ear marks and only implement those that are in the “national interests”.
    This would of course just kick the can down the road. To the extent that local vote buying through earmarks would be politically helpful, the “national interests” would be found lacking in democratic earmarks and present in republican ones.
    Kill of the benchmarks of some high profile democrats (Pelosi, Reid, Murtha, Clinton, Obama) to make headlines.

    But despite his critics, Bush isn’t nearly that Machiavellian in his governance.

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  5. Grewgills says:

    I think he would be more likely to issue an executive order to end earmarks after the elections if a Democrat is elected. The Democrat president would then need to issue an order to revoke Bush’s order.

    If he does it that would probably be how.

    It is funny how this has become such a big issue on a number of Right wing blogs just this past year. I wonder why they are so much more concerned about this issue now.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    It is funny how this has become such a big issue on a number of Right wing blogs just this past year. I wonder why they are so much more concerned about this issue now.

    Actually, Porkbusters and similar efforts have been ongoing since well before the 2006 elections. The “Bridge to Nowhere” thing really made it catch fire.

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  7. yetanotherjohn says:

    and the pork busters effort is one of those truly bipartisan efforts (both left and right) that we hear touted so much, but rarely see in practice.

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  8. Grewgills says:

    Actually, Porkbusters and similar efforts have been ongoing since well before the 2006 elections.

    Yes, but I was thinking more along the lines of the partisan blogs like redstate etc that are making much more of this in the past year than the previous 6.

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