They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And so is an event where there is quite pointedly no picture: the controversial 2009-originated spending bill — packed with more earmarks from politicos of both parties than a banana split has calories — was signed by President Barack Obama…away from cameras or public view:
President Obama today signed what he called an “imperfect” spending bill to keep the government running even though it contains thousands of lawmakers’ pet projects, but he called for more rigorous review of future projects, known as earmarks, that are designated by individual legislators for their states or districts.
The president also issued a “signing statement” in which he objected to provisions of the bill unrelated to earmarks.
Obama called on Congress to enact a series of guidelines that he said would not eliminate earmarks but would force lawmakers to be more transparent about them and would crack down on those that benefit private companies. He said it “should go without saying that an earmark must never be traded for political favors.” The guidelines are aimed at curbing the number of pet projects in appropriations bills, setting up a potential battle with lawmakers who have clung to the spending items.
Speaking in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House late this morning, Obama said he would sign a $410 billion omnibus spending bill although it contains more than 8,500 earmarks worth nearly $8 billion. The Senate passed the bill yesterday on a voice vote after overcoming Republican opposition and the defection of several Democrats.
“I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it is necessary for the ongoing functions of government,” Obama said. “But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change.” “The future demands that we operate in a different way than we have in the past,” Obama said. “So let there be no doubt: This piece of legislation must mark an end to the old way of doing business and the beginning of a new era of responsibility and accountability.”
In addition, the Washington Post notes, Obama also attached his own signing statement:
The White House announced this afternoon that Obama had signed the omnibus bill, apparently out of public view, and it released a “signing statement” in which Obama recorded his objections in five areas of the legislation on constitutional grounds. Obama defended his use of a signing statement, a practice that drew intense criticism from Democrats when it was repeatedly employed by President George W. Bush. Obama said it “is a legitimate constitutional function” to indicate when a bill contains “provisions that are subject to well-founded constitutional objections.”
And so it goes.
In recent days there has been a double push back on the earmarks aka “pork” issue. While many GOPers in Congress decried it, it turned out that it emerged that a large number of Republicans — including some who were loudly and boldly denouncing earmarks in the bill, saying the bill was absolutely outrageous — had their own earmarks in it. And Democrats, in turn, pointed to this political hypocrisy as some Demmies also began saying that not all earmarks are bad.
Basically, to some politicians (of both parties) if someone else has an earmark it’s pork, but if they have one it’s vital. It’s called “political self-interest.”
Once again Obama is trying to stake out a middle ground — decrying earmarks but saying not all of them are necessarily bad and trying to avoid being associated with the embracing of earmarks by notably signing this bill away from the cameras’ reach…and insisting that there will be substantive reform to curtail the “bad” ones. Salon reports:
Ordinarily, calling for a reform of the earmark process on the very day that you sign billions of dollars’ worth of lawmakers’ pet earmarks into law would be a tough act to pull off. But Obama’s Republican critics, who have been howling about the earmarks in the spending bill for weeks now, earning as much cable airtime as a missing child with their semi-feigned fiscal outrage, didn’t exactly go all out to stop him. John Boehner’s spokeswoman mocked Obama for promoting earmark reform while signing a bill into law that contained 9,000 earmarks, but the GOP effort was more theatrical than substantive. That’s because the GOP has its own porky problems: 40 percent of the earmarks in the legislation were requested by Republicans, including some of the very Republicans who were shocked — shocked — by the price tag of the spending bill. For example, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., voted against the bill, which he called “bloated,” even though part of the bloat included $249 million in earmarks he himself had requested. As President Obama noted, “I [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.”
At least one of the Republican critics seemed to mean it, however. According to Obama’s plan, any new congressional earmarks should be posted on lawmakers’ Web sites ahead of time and go through competitive bidding if private companies will get money out of them. The White House will also try to eliminate any earmarks that don’t seem to serve the public interest. Obama’s old rival John McCain was not satisfied. “The president either doesn’t get it or he refuses to directly attack the evil that is earmark, pork barrel spending here in Washington,” McCain told Fox News.
McCain spent most of 2008 railing about earmarks, and if you got all your information about politics from the McCain campaign, you would probably think eliminating pet projects by lawmakers would solve all the world’s problems. You would probably be wrong, though; as Obama pointed out in debates last year, earmarks make up a minuscule percentage of the federal budget. The earmarks in this spending bill added up to less than 2 percent of the total tab. That’s why the Obama administration decided to push it through without haggling about earmarks; the point of the spending bill was to get the government funded for the rest of the year. (Still, in their attacks on Obama’s supposed fiscal incompetence, lately GOP leaders have started rolling the spending bill and its earmarks in with the stimulus package, landing on a new talking point that says Obama has spent a billion dollars an hour since his inauguration.)
Also be sure to read Andrew Malcolm HERE.
Cartoon by David Fitzsimmons, The Arizona Star
The above cartoon is copyrighted and licensed to run on TMV. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.