- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Democratic president and the Democratic leader of the Senate are not exactly on the same page regarding earmarks.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada in no uncertain terms defended the right of lawmakers to direct federal dollars to their districts despite the efforts by President Obama to curb the time-honored practice as he puts the finishing touches on his first fiscal-year budget, to be released Thursday.

“We are a separate branch of government,” Mr. Reid told reporters Wednesday.

“Since we’ve been a country, we have had the obligation, as a Congress, to help direct spending. We cannot let spending be done by a bunch of nameless, faceless bureaucrats buried in this town someplace, to take care the needs of the state of Nevada, Washington and New York.”

The president demanded there be no explicit earmarks in the $787 billion economic stimulus package passed last week, but the same discipline is not carrying over to regular appropriations bills.

The omnibus spending bill released by congressional Democrats earlier this week for the remainder of the current fiscal year contained thousands of earmarks, requested by lawmakers of both parties. The specific items funded are almost always for programs, grants or other federal projects directed to the state or district of the lawmakers requesting them.

Republican budget hawks have attacked the high number of earmarks in the bill. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, fiercely attacked such special spending requests as a presidential candidate in 2008 and this week called on President Obama to veto the $410 billion spending bill in its present form.

Mr. Reid acknowledged Wednesday that the earmark process had been “abused” in recent years. House and Senate Democrats claim that the number of such special requests will be lower in the new budget and that the projects and the members requesting the earmarks will be fully disclosed.

But Mr. Reid made clear that Congress would not give up its earmark prerogatives just because of the election.

“I will do all I can to maintain the viability of the branch of government called Congress,” he said.

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