WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama railed against pork-barrel projects Wednesday. Then he signed a massive spending bill stuffed with them.
Still, Obama pledged to reform the process by which so-called earmarks end up in spending bills. He unveiled a plan that he said was designed to make sure all projects that benefit from earmarking have a “legitimate” purpose.
Obama said he was signing the $410 billion spending bill, to fund the operations of all but three Cabinet departments, in the interest of keeping the federal government running. The bill won final approval Tuesday, just before a stopgap measure that funded those departments was due to expire.
Republicans had urged the president to veto the bill in a stand against earmarking – the means by which members of Congress direct taxpayer money to particular projects or businesses.
“I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it is necessary for the ongoing functions of government, and we have a lot more work to do,” Obama said.
“But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change,” he added.
The president said that, in the future, all earmarks should have a “legitimate and worthy public purpose.” He said that members of Congress who propose them should post them on their Web sites for public inspection and that the measures should be discussed at public hearings.
Obama said earmarks benefiting for-profit companies should be subject to the same competitive bidding requirements as other federal contracts. He called such earmarks “the single most corrupting element of this practice.”
House Democratic lawmakers replied with a reform package of their own, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., saying federal agencies would be asked to review the earmarks that members propose.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the pledges emanating from the White House and congressional Democrats sounded like the saying “Give me sobriety, but not yet.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the most high-profile critic of the practice, said Obama should have threatened to veto any bill that contained irresponsible earmarks.