Total in spending bill: $7.7 billion
Sponsored by Democrats: $4.6 billion
Sponsored by Republicans:$3.1 billion
— Washington Post
Washington — President Barack Obama railed against pork barrel projects on Wednesday. Then, he signed a massive spending bill stuffed with them.
Still, Obama pledged to reform the process by which such “earmarks” end up in spending bills. He unveiled a plan that he said was designed to make sure all such projects have a “legitimate” purpose.
Obama said he was signing the $410 billion spending bill, which funds the operations of all but three Cabinet departments, in order to keep the federal government running. The bill had won final approval on Tuesday, just before a stopgap measure that had funded those departments was due to expire.
Republicans had urged the president to veto the bill in order to take a stand against earmarking — the means by which members of Congress direct taxpayer money to a particular project or business.
“I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it is necessary for the ongoing functions of government, and we have a lot more work to do,” Obama said, noting he doesn’t want Congress “bogged down” in that discussion rather than working on more pressing work.
“But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change,” Obama said.
The president said that in the future, all earmarks should have a “legitimate and worthy public purpose.” And he said members of Congress who propose them should post them on their Web sites for public inspection, and that they should be discussed at public hearings.
Obama also said earmarks benefiting for-profit companies should be subject to the same competitive bidding requirements as other federal contracts. He called such earmarks “the single most corrupting element of this practice.”
House Democratic lawmakers replied with a reform package of their own. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said federal agencies would be asked to review the earmarks that members propose — which is not done today — and she offered other ideas similar to those of the president.
To one Republican, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, the pledges emanating from the White House and congressional Democrats sounded something like, “Give me sobriety, but not yet.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the most high-profile critic of the practice, said Obama simply should have threatened to veto any bill that contained irresponsible earmarks.
“The president could have resolved this issue in one statement — no more unauthorized pork-barrel projects — and pledged to use his veto pen to stop them,” McCain said.
The spending bill Obama signed Wednesday is packed with such earmarks, including 13 that benefit clients of the PMA Group, a lobbying firm in Washington under federal investigation for alleged campaign-finance abuses.
Efforts by Republicans this week to strip those earmarks from the bill failed.
“Pardon us if we note the irony of signing a bill into law that contains close to 9,000 earmarks on the very day that the president pushes alleged earmark reform,” said Antonia Ferrier, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio. “It’s like washing down a doughnut with a Slim-Fast shake.”