- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

The Bush administration no longer will be bound by most congressional pork-barrel spending requests, the director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget said yesterday in a memo on how federal departments and agencies should treat money in the new spending bill the president signed into law.

Some Republicans hailed it as a giant turnaround, while Democrats said they already had taken steps to restrict pork spending this year.

More than 95 percent of pork-spending requests, known as earmarks, are never enacted as laws, but rather are written into reports that do not have the force of law. For years, most departments and agencies have honored the requests anyway, fearing that otherwise their funding would be cut the next year.

OMB Director Rob Portman’s memo says the Bush administration will feel free to ignore those requests.

“In short, funding decisions should be based on the merits, in accordance with the law,” Mr. Portman said.

Earlier in the day, President Bush signed a $463.5 billion spending bill to fund the government through the end of fiscal 2007, taking care of the appropriations measures left unfinished by the Republican-controlled Congress last year.

In that bill, Democrats swore off most earmarks, part of a moratorium while they consider rules to bring transparency to spending. But Mr. Bush said after signing the bill that Congress still had to do more against earmarks.

“As the Congress takes up the 2008 budget, it should continue to take steps to improve transparency for all earmarks, provide the option of an up-or-down vote for each earmark, and reduce the number and cost of earmarks by at least half,” he said.

The Energy Department and other federal agencies have reported that lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, are still placing calls to demand privately that their pet projects be funded.

Republicans said the memo yesterday short-circuits that.

“The president handed American taxpayers a huge victory today by stopping all of the backdoor earmarks Congress requests hidden in reports and through secret e-mails and phone calls,” said Sen. Jim DeMint, South Carolina Republican, who for the past year has pleaded with Mr. Bush to take this step.

Earmarks have jumped from obscurity to become a hot topic on Capitol Hill, thanks to projects such as the $223 million so-called “Bridge to Nowhere,” which was backed by Alaska’s Republican lawmakers but was scuttled after public outcry.

Fiscal conservatives acknowledge that eliminating earmarks does not necessarily save any money, but they argue it allows the government to spend the money on the right projects.

“Federal agencies can now use these funds to advance their core missions and serve true national priorities,” Mr. DeMint said.

Democrats said Mr. Portman’s memo followed through on their own wishes to put a moratorium on earmarks this year, which they wrote into the spending bill.

“He’s just doing what we told him,” said a House Democratic aide.

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