Bush to Issue Earmarks Executive Order
President Bush is poised to ban most spending earmarks by executive decree.
In his State of the Union address tonight, Bush will promise to “veto any spending bill that does not succeed in cutting earmarks in half from 2008 levels,” deputy press secretary Tony Fratto said in an e-mail.
Bush will issue an executive order tomorrow directing federal agencies to ignore any earmarks included only in committee reports, not in the text of legislation. Bush will say that if spending for such projects is warranted, then “Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote,” Fratto said.
Congress approved more than 11,700 earmarks valued at a total of more than $19 billion for the fiscal 2008 spending year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
This is a pleasant surprise, in that it looked like Bush was going cave on this less than a week ago.
It’s hard to make a case against this, really. While $19 billion amounts to a mere rounding error in a $2.8 trillion budget, spending should at least be done according to the process outlined in the Constitution. The idea that Congress can spend billions off book without even a floor vote is simply bizarre.
Update (Chris Lawrence): Unlike James, I think this action is really quite meaningless. The earmarks in committee reports (which don’t have the force of law) don’t actually expand the appropriated funds, so they are not “off-the-book” spending in the traditional sense; instead, they direct the bureaucracy to allocate funds that are authorized and appropriated in more general programs to certain projects rather than applying the bureaucrats’ discretion or established criteria for doing so. In other words, that $19 billion will be spent either way.
Since the president lacks a line-item veto power, the obvious response on Congress’ part is to simply fold the earmarks into the text of legislation or attach a rider to “must-pass” bills stating that committee report earmarks have the force of law. In the meantime, Congress has the power to make the bureaucrats who are responsible for following the earmarks miserable; political appointees and civil service employees only cross powerful members at their peril, and the only real effect of this executive order is to put those employees in the middle of a political squabble that Congress will certainly win in the end.