- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2009


President Obama on Wednesday plans to unveil new rules to restrict the practice of pork-barrel spending on the same day that he signs a $410 billion bill swollen with money for lawmakers’ pet projects.

“Although it’s not perfect, the president will sign the legislation, but demonstrate for all involved rules moving forward that he thinks can make this process work a little bit better,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Mr. Obama’s event will be his attempt to distance himself from the 9,000 earmarks in the omnibus spending bill he’ll sign likely earlier in the day, after it was passed by the Senate Tuesday evening.

The president has been criticized by fiscal hawks for signing the bill in the first place after a pledge during the presidential campaign to reduce the practice.

“No time is better than the present to undertake earmark reform Mr. President,” wrote Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who Mr. Obama defeated to win the White House last fall, on his Twitter page Wednesday morning.

Negotiations between the White House and Capitol Hill continued until late into the afternoon Tuesday, sources in both locations said.

Democrats who retook control of Congress in 2006 partly on the back of their criticisms of GOP earmark spending have grown prickly about criticisms of the practice, arguing of late that it is the best way to funnel federal money to localities.

And Democratic leaders have stiffened at what they see as Mr. Obama’s attempt to dictate to them.

“I don’t think the White House has the ability to tell us what to do,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said last week.

White House and Hill staffers were tight-lipped about details of the agreement. But sources did say to expect something close to or along the lines of what Mr. Obama has promised in the past.

Mr. Obama promised during the transition to reduce earmarks to a total value of less than $7.8 billion a year, compared to the $29 billion in earmarks during 2006.

Mr. Obama has also proposed that lawmakers be required to attach their names to earmarks and provide a written justification for each earmark, which will have to be submitted 72 hours before the bill is passed by the Senate.

Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, likened the president’s signing of the bill to “washing down a donut with a Slim Fast shake.”

“The president frequently says that Washington is a hard town to change, but he had the power to change this bill by using his veto authority,” she said. “Sadly, we are still waiting for change to come to the nation’s Capitol.”

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