Public anger over earmarks cost Republicans their majority in Congress in 2006, but Democrats have proven themselves equally incapable of getting rid of outrages such as the Bridge to Nowhere. More than 11,700 earmarks, totaling $16.9 billion, are attached to 2008 spending bills. It’s now up to President Bush to make good on his promise to “end this practice” once and for all.
Conservatives and good-government groups have urged Bush since before Christmas to issue an executive order directing federal agencies to ignore earmarks contained in committee reports that are not attached to legislation voted into law. Bush has previously picked fights with Congress on executive privilege issues. Yet he seems uncharacteristically reluctant to do so now, despite being on legal grounds declared solid by none other than the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Supreme Court.
So what is Bush waiting for?
Signing such an executive order would eliminate most earmarks and force Congress to clean up its act. By funneling billions of dollars to favored — and often secret — earmark recipients, members of Congress bypass their own legislative process, as well as the competitive bidding typically required in the executive branch.
But Bush hesitates to exercise his authority. Surely he doesn’t fear challenging a Congress that trails him in public approval surveys. House Republican Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has reportedly warned administration officials that meddling with earmarks will anger GOP members who areresponsible for 40 percent of those in the 2008 spending bills. But what about angry taxpayers who see their hard-earned tax dollars being shoveled out the back door, and who correctly view earmarks as politically corrupting payoffs?
A small, bipartisan band of 20 congressional members, led by earmark busters Sens. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., recently announced that they will no longer sponsor any earmarks, political consequences be damned. That’s the kind of courageous, principled leadership that should be coming from the White House and congressional leaders of both parties but isn’t — so far.
If members of Congress want to bring home the bacon, they can introduce bills to provide federal funding for whatever entity in their district they believe deserves it — in full public view, with all conflicts of interest publicly reported, and with the complete expenditure posted on the federal government’s new, searchable database. President Bush, and the American people, should demand nothing less.