Thursday, March 12, 2009

Obama Addresses Earmark Obsession

I'm glad that President Obama came out yesterday and expressed a sense of weariness over the media's obsession with earmarks while he also outlined his proposal to reduce and reform their use in the future. President Obama said this as he announced that he would sign the $410 billion omnibus spending bill that does include earmarks (they make up less than 2% of the bill) when it arrived his desk.

I want to remind people because the media seems to have forgotten that earmarks were not Obama's issue during the campaign -- they were Republican candidate John McCain's. Seriously people, there are those who are complaining that President Obama did not keep John McCain's campaign promise. President Obama never promised to veto them, just reduce their number and make their sponsors more accountable. Now he did not reduce them in this bill, which was written before he was elected, but he did make them more transparent. We now know who was the author and sponsor of every earmark.

Keith Olbermann pointed this out on Countdown last night. He showed President Obama speaking about this, and then spoke with Newsweek's Richard Wolfe.

Watch it here:

Here are President Obama's statement:

"Yesterday, Congress sent me the final part of last year's budget; a piece of legislation that rolls nine bills required to keep the government running into one – a piece of legislation that addresses the immediate concerns of the American people by making needed investments in line with our urgent national priorities."

"That is what nearly 99 percent of this legislation does – the nearly 99 percent you probably haven't heard much about."

In fact, President Obama came out and said quite clearly that earmarks have some value:
"Done right, earmarks give legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their district, and that's why I have opposed their outright elimination."
And he took a swipe at some of the bill's critics:
"I also find it ironic that some of those who railed the loudest against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own – and will tout them in their own states and districts."
President Obama suggested new guidelines for earmarks that he said were consistent with his pledge to restore "responsibility, transparency, and accountability to the actions government takes." He said that earmarks should be announced and justified ahead of time, shouldn't go to private companies without competitive bidding and shouldn't be traded for political favors.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer wrote about the stupidity of the Republican's argument in a USA Today op-ed yesterday:

"Some politicians try to cultivate an image of fiscal discipline by railing against earmarks — and 'pork' also makes a great story for the news media. But as congressional scholar Thomas Mann recently noted, earmarks do not generally increase spending but simply allow members of Congress to direct a small part of a program's funding.

'Abolishing all earmarks would therefore have a trivial effect on the level of spending,' Mann explained, adding that 'hyperbolic attacks on earmarks are a disservice to the public, encouraging people to concentrate way too much attention and energy on a largely symbolic issue and ignore the critical decisions that we face.'"

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