Bush to Issue Earmarks Executive Order

President Bush is poised to ban most spending earmarks by executive decree.

Bush to Issue Earmarks Executive Order President George W. Bush will begin “unprecedented steps” to trim billions of dollars earmarked by lawmakers for pet projects, a White House spokesman said.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. superdestroyer says:

    First, it is seven years too late. Second, the President has no credibility in doing this while the Democrats are in charge of the budget process instead of doing it while the Republicans were in charge.

    Too little, too late. How about vetoing ever budget that is not balanced.

  2. yetanotherjohn says:

    So are you arguing he shouldn’t do this superdestroyer? Or are you of the opinion that beating up on people who do what you think should be done is the way to motivate them and others?

  3. James K says:

    ‘Bout time. This “earmark” thing has got to be reined in.
    Perhaps this action by President Bush will draw the neccessary attention to this unethical practice so it can be brought to a halt.

  4. Tlaloc says:

    Considering that this is picking a fight with *ALL* of congress, not just the dems, I think it’s a bonehead move by Bush. He’s been relying on the senate reps to sustain filibuster after filibuster against dem legislation.

    Will they now that the president is cutting off the money they use to get re-elected?

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    It is a small step in the right direction. Even though the earmarks are built in it could help break the link of pork to campaign contributions. It is late but I don’t know if we can ever say too late.

    This coupled with all donations being anonymous would change the culture in Washington.

  6. Grewgills says:

    It is a reasonable move and many years too late.

    The timing makes it look like a partisan move. He seems to be saying; it is fine to move as much pork as you want as long as Republicans are in charge and the bulk of the pork goes to protect Republican incumbency, but it must be stopped if the shoe is on the other foot.

  7. DC Loser says:

    So what is my office supposed to do with the multiple $$ in earmarks got from a certain Republican senator for his home state?

  8. James K says:

    To DC Loser: Sounds like you need a helping of common sense.
    Is it pork, like most “earmarks”, or is it truly beneficial to the general population? If it’s pork, blow the whistle.
    I don’t care what party you want to affifiate yourself with, just don’t let selfishness creep into policy.

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Ah. Apparently Bush is making an executive order for future budgets, of which Bush will have exactly… none.

    Typical, he’s just dumping another mess into the lap of the person to follow him. Now the next president either has to maintain the executive order thus prompting the showdown with congress that Bush didn’t have the balls for, or they rescind it and get tarred as pro-earmark.

  10. tom p says:

    This mess is never going to end, as long as nobody in gov’t has the balls to say “I am going to do what is best for the Nation, not what is best for my next reelection bid.”

    I too find it rather politically expedient for Bush to put his foot down now… Tho I have to point out that when Nancy and Harry came to their positions of leadership they were all about “PAYGO”… at least until they ran up against Bush’s first veto threat. Out the door went that idea!

  11. rodney dill says:

    Its good that he’s starting something in the right direction on earmarks/port.

    It would’ve been better soon, but this is better as he’s headed out the door at the end of next year, when an incoming president would likely just countermand it.

    It’s more of a partisan move to do it after only after someone from the opposition is elected.