Patterico's Pontifications

1/28/2008

President Bush Issues Order on Earmarks (Updated)

Filed under: Politics — DRJ @ 11:52 am



[Abbreviated guest post by DRJ]

From Porkbusters via the Instapundit, President Bush announces an order on earmarks:

“On Tuesday, President Bush will issue an Executive Order directing Federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on and included in a law approved by Congress. This will effectively end the common practice of concealing earmarks in so-called report language instead of placing them in the actual text of the bill. This means earmarks will be subject to votes, which will better expose them to the light of day and help constrain excessive and unjustified spending.

The Executive Order will provide that with regard to all future appropriations laws and other legislation enacted into law, executive agencies will not commit, obligate, or expend funds on the basis of earmarks from any non-statutory source, including requests included in congressional committee reports or other congressional documents, or communications from or on behalf of Members of Congress, or any other non-statutory source, except when required by law, or when an agency itself decides that a project or other transaction has merit under statutory criteria or other merit-based decision-making.”

The Instapundit’s take: “Good for him. If he’d done this in 2005, of course, the GOP might have kept its majority. But this is still the right thing to do.”

My take: President Bush just saved his legacy with me.

UPDATE @ 1:15 PM PST: So much for his legacy. Mark Tapscott says it’s an empty gesture because it only applies to future legislation:

“In view of the collapse of the GOP leadership on all three fronts, it is absolutely fitting that Pelosi most accurately explains what it means: “I think Republicans have pulled their punch on earmarks. It looked like a very lukewarm approach. They want to beat a loud drum, but when it comes down to it, they want their earmarks.”

Precisely. With few exceptions, the Republicans in the nation’s capitol are toothless wonders. They talk a good case for conservative reform but they don’t walk it. They want to keep the perks of power and position, even if doing so means betraying the principles they profess to believe and for the defense of which their constituents voted for them.”

Sad.

Now I’m especially interested in the positions of the GOP Presidential candidates on this. That will help me decide who to vote for.

— DRJ

61 Responses to “President Bush Issues Order on Earmarks (Updated)”

  1. I truly don’t get why we are in such high dudgeon over earmarks when the guy who beats the drums against them (Coburn) lives in a state (Oklahoma) where its residents get $1.48 in benefits for every $1 it pays in taxes. And that’s before Coburn both voted for the most recent Farm Bill and “sold his soul” to John McCain.

    Choose your champions wisely, folks.

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  2. And frankly, if I were Harry Reid (and had some gonads left), I’d tell Bush and the House where they can stick that “stimulus package” after this usurpation.

    Your Pork is my Public Good. Got it?

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  3. Brad, usurpation? The Congress has passed bills where the text lacks any specification of the spending, those details are buried in a conference committee report not actually adopted as part of the legislative text and you talk about usurpation?

    I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  4. Brad,

    I truly don’t get why we are in such high dudgeon over earmarks…

    Because we correctly focus on the message, not the messenger.

    Get it? :)

    ras (fc54bb)

  5. Brad S #2,

    There isn’t much public good for the government to have $24.5 Billion in “Unreconciled Transactions Affecting the Change in Net Position” in 2003.

    DRJ (517d26)

  6. Earmarks are not law. They are pork barrel favors to constituents and campaign donors that are NOT debated and are placed in the spending bills AFTER debate and in conference committee so that no one has to vote on them. This is corruption and had a lot to do with the loss of the Republican majority as they seemed no more concerned with spending that the other party. Bush has been delinquent in this matter and his party has not exactly found religion on this subject. If they would appoint Jeff Flake to the Appropriations Committee, I’d trust them a lot more.

    This is a good first step.

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  7. SPQR,

    Last I checked, bills went to Conference (per Neb. Senator George Norris, the Third House of Congress) to iron out differences between House and Senate bills. Then those same conference reports go to both Houses to get passed before the President signs/vetos/pocket vetos.

    So, yes, Conference reports are laws passed by Congress. What Bush is doing (encouraged by Glenn Reynolds and Tom Coburn) is a backdoor attempt at obtaining a line-item veto without having to specifically ask for one. And as we all remember, SCOTUS specifically struck that down as being an usurpation of Congressional authority.

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  8. Who knew Glenn Reynolds was so powerful?

    DRJ (517d26)

  9. And BTW, someone should kindly remind Rep. Jeff Flake (along with John McCain) that his Arizona congressional district would have very few (if any) people in it if it weren’t for something called the Central Arizona Project. That project, paid prinicipally by our parents/grandparents, directly subsidized suburban development in the Arizona development, against all common sense.

    And I won’t even get into the fact that Glenn Reynolds gets his electric bills subsidized by the Federal taxpayers as well (He lives in TVA service territory).

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  10. George Bush – seven years behind the curve!

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  11. Brad S, all Congress has to do is amend the actual legislative text when passing the bill after conference committee. Something that is regularly done for such conference committee work every day. Wow, another “usurpation” solved.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  12. Oops, that should be Arizona desert.

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  13. Brad, i’m a pretty strident legislative supremacist, but I think this is an appropriate use of executive power: refusing to follow instructions which aren’t embodied in statute is perfectly reasonable.

    If Congress wants to make something the law, it can do so. If it wants to pass on advisory recommendations which don’t have the force of statute, then the executive can ignore them.

    The fact that it has customarily followed them in the past is not binding and does not make them law.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  14. This is just another Bush punt — check out Captain’s Quarters on this. Once again Bush pushes action on the nation’s problems into the years after the end of his Presidency. We consume now, we cut back later. We consume now, we pay the taxes for it later. We borrow from abroad now, we sell off our capital to pay for it later.

    It’s a fools game.

    [EDIT: Here’s the Captain’s Quarters link PrestoPundit mentions. — DRJ]

    PrestoPundit (ff5e16)

  15. Bush didn’t have the guts to do this to a GOP Congress. The cowardice and hypocrisy should make you retch.

    Andrew J. Lazarus (7d46f9)

  16. Brad,

    You’re really having a hard time separating the message from the messenger, aren’t you? Is it deliberate? Can you see that the logic against earmarking remains the same regardless of who is touting it and how you feel about that person?

    If “yes,” then why do you persist in the opposite?

    p.s. re Arizona, read “Economics In One Lesson” by Hazlitt. Summation: tyranny of the visual.

    ras (fc54bb)

  17. Upcoming news – Bush pushes for a wall along the Mexican border – five years after he leaves office.

    Perfect Sense (b6ec8c)

  18. Sigh. Well, it’s progress. But too little and far too late.

    Darkmage (be2d37)

  19. No, Bush will push for a Presidential Papers Release bill to be enforced the day after his are burned.

    fishbane (fbe4d4)

  20. the main reason i think bush didnt get into a fuss with congress over earmarks earlier in his presidency is 1. he inherited a recession due to the internet bubble and 2. the war on terror began on 9/11/01, barely 8 months into his term. if one goes back and reads about the campaign of 2000, bush was all about being the domestic agenda president. it just didnt work out that way for him, stuff happens.

    james conrad (7cd809)

  21. For all the people that are complaining about it being too late (it is); think for a minute. Would you rather have it too little and late, or not at all?

    There are a lot of things (earmarks, border, etc) that I am not happy about with the current administration, but I will not complain when they FINALLY do something I’ve wanted them to do. It’s a little pathetic to complain about getting the present you always wanted a little late no?

    Verlin Martin (eb270b)

  22. Since it doesn’t begin until the 2009 budget, this is illusory. If Congress cuts the earmarks in the spending bill in half, they can attach the other half to various other bills.

    steve (e3f892)

  23. So true, Steve.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  24. Perhaps Bush could make the following stmt, as could any pres:

    “I will veto any spending bill that contains specific earmarks and does NOT also contain a clause giving me a line-item veto over those same earmarks.”

    Yeah, it’d mean a fight but the pres would have the public on his side. Yeah, the porkers would try to mix and match good and bad and then cry that the pres was “holding our troops, or seniors, or whatever, as hostage”. Yeah, they’d play dirty.

    But the pres could just say, “hey, separate the pork and I’ll be glad to pass the regular stuff.”

    And the public would support that overwhelmingly. And if there be a few choice items in the pork that really were useful and productive – don’t laugh, it might happen some day – he could let those particulars sail right on thru.

    /Problem Solved

    p.s. Nice campaign promise for a credible 3rd party candidate, eh? You can’t trust the existing insiders cuz they’re too beholden to their own party to buck the donors, so you should put in a 3rd party candidate instead to act as an independent auditor of the corruption.

    ras (fc54bb)

  25. I think Republicans have pulled their punch on earmarks. It looked like a very lukewarm approach. They want to beat a loud drum, but when it comes down to it, they want their earmarks

    Are we sure she’s ONLY talking about republicans? Sounds a hell of a lot like she’s talking about Democrats and anything involving elthics…

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  26. I guess President Bush keeping everyones sorry, ungrateful behinds safe for over the last 6 years just isn’t enough.

    James Allegro (d671ab)

  27. ras,

    As a native South Dakotan, I’ve learned long ago what nonsense anti-earmark and anti-pork arguments really were. The newspaper in the most conservative part of that state (Rapid City Journal) was quite blunt in its defense of pork: They stated “One man’s pork is another man’s constituent service.” That paper, along with its fellow press brethern, pulls no punches when they state that South Dakota would be in a big hole if they didn’t see every opportunity for federal money.

    So if Jeff Flake’s predecessors can get the Federal taxpayer to subsidize lavish suburban development in a desert that has little native water, why can’t John Thune seek a little money to expand capacity on a highway?

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  28. Prestopundit,

    And I suppose you’re going to make a case that Truman (and his successors) were derelict in passing off the Cold War to the next administration? It’s called continuity. It’s called giving the next guy a chance at ownership of the problem so he/she can propose their own “solution.”

    Brad S (f4a3ad)

  29. Brad S, over 95 percent of all earmarks are placed in what is known as “report language.” When bills come out of either House, these reports are known as “committee reports.” When they come out of a conference committee (to reconcile differences between a House and Senate version of a bill), they are known as “joint explanatory statements.” They are not law. They accompany law. And according to the Congressional Research Service, over 95 percent of all earmarks are placed into this unamendable, non-binding report language. Congress doesn’t pass reports; it passes laws. Get your facts straight before you get on your high horse again.

    Larry Jones (693f65)

  30. There is still misunderstanding about earmarks. From the Captain’s Quarters link:

    Congress endorsed 11,735 special-interest earmarks worth $16.9 billion in fiscal 2008, yet thousands of these weren’t even written into the actual budget bills. Instead, they were “air-dropped” at the last minute into nonbinding conference reports that serve as advice to federal departments about where to allocate funds. This ruse means that earmarks are able to avoid scrutiny from spending hawks on the House and Senate floor.

    That is what we are talking about. If they are in the legislation and have been voted on, they are not subject to Bush’s action except a veto. The key issue is that there are thousands that are NOT in the legislation, even after conference.

    I agree he is to diffident about this. I have also read that Hastert was pushing him to leave spending alone when they were in the majority. It wasn’t just Bush’s fault. All those defeated Congress critters are now working as lobbyists for the companies that got the earmarks while we are left with the debt.

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  31. Sunny Lucus is looking better and better. :(

    htom (412a17)

  32. I think better first steps would be passage of the Read the Bills Act and the One Subject at a Time Act (see DownsizeDC.org). These would do exactly as their titles suggest and work to expose pork and waste. Any presidential candidate who would show this level of courage has my vote.

    John Galt (7072ba)

  33. A self denying ordinance it isn’t, but it’s better than nothing. I had questions about the legalities (harking back to Nixon impounding funds allocated for programs against his wishes) but Mike K seems to have answered them.

    kishnevi (da26af)

  34. It’s like the Republican tax cuts – not made permanent in order to keep us voting Republican.

    Amphipolis (e6b868)

  35. Brad S,

    So if Jeff Flake’s predecessors can get the Federal taxpayer to subsidize lavish suburban development in a desert that has little native water, why can’t John Thune seek a little money to expand capacity on a highway?

    A classic “tragedy of the commons” trap if ever there were one. That’s why, imho, voters generally prefer a more fiscally conservsative president and a less fiscally conservative representative, all else being equal.

    Sun that givest all things birth
    Shine on everything on Earth

    If that’s too much to demand
    Shine at least on this, our land

    If even that’s too much for thee
    Shine at any rate on me

    The voters are in a bind, with the tragedy of the commons morphing into a prisoner’s dilemma trap at the booth: If they pick a non-porker in a pork congress, they simply end up as the saps who subsidize everyone else. So when in doubt they opt for stanzas two and three above as their fallback plan; i.e. the best they can do under the circumstances.

    Which is where a pres who can step in and veto the pork across the board solves the problem.

    [The above is also why R’s who act like mildly toned-down D’s are doomed to lose ground. If the commons is being stripped bare anyway, might as well get as much of the action as you can, and that means a D.]

    ras (fc54bb)

  36. Does this apply to the bailout bill?

    Patricia (f56a97)

  37. To everyone,

    Do you guys ever realize what you’re actually saying when you rail against a President YOU HELPED ELECT on certain issues? It’s quite clear: “Waah! Some idiot GOPer in Podunk, SD is getting his earmark for a new freeway interchange and my fellow Starbucks drinkers aren’t! Not fair! Ted Stevens needs to play fair!” “AAARGH! Those infernal Latinos are going around the rules! Let’s play keepaway!”

    Tell me, is Anti-Earmarkism and Anti-“Illegal”-Immigration a winner’s argument? Or is it an attitude of “It’s my ball and I’m going home! You can’t have this unless you play by MY rules!”

    Children have this attitude. Losers have this attitude.

    Brad S (779710)

  38. Brad S., putting words in our mouths is just strawman arguments.

    Together with the name calling, its not an adult debating tactic.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  39. Brad,

    Once again, you are intermixing messenger and message. I guess you must just enjoy being superior.

    How’s it feel, by the way? I ask because it doesn’t seem to last very long before you need to do it again, so perhaps you’re building a tolerance.

    ras (fc54bb)

  40. ras,

    So you’re willing to go to some rural/Southern/Midwestern town and tell them they can’t have their earmark that helps them improve their community life because “they should stay firm to principles?” My, that takes courage; starve someone else to salve your conscience and help you stay true to “principles.”

    I don’t think I need to elaborate on how that’s worse than a loser’s argument.

    Brad S (779710)

  41. Brad S,

    You clearly have me confused w/some other ras in your life who must make those args that you incorrectly attribute to me.

    Note that a pres veto of all pork merely frees up the same money, either to stay in the hands of the individuals in those local communities whose pain you so histrionically feel or, if taxed, to be spent by local govts closer to the action.

    Again, check out Hazlitt as recomm’d above. Sigh.

    p.s. I’m Canadian, so I have no false principles in this matter, only real ones with zero conflict of interest.

    ras (fc54bb)

  42. Ha, real ras, I have, like, totally fooled Brad! Totally, dude!

    strawman ras (fc54bb)

  43. And the Republicans in Congress wonder why we call them Democrat-Lite?

    redherkey (9f5961)

  44. “They are pork barrel favors to constituents and campaign donors that are NOT debated and are placed in the spending bills AFTER debate and in conference committee so that no one has to vote on them”

    If they are placed in the bills they are law.

    This bush order seems empty. Lets say congress gives DOJ 100 million, and then in committee report tells DOJ to spend 2 million making a DNA database of criminals. Does Bush mean that DOJ can’t do this? Or that DOJ should not listen to this? Lets say DOJ thinks “hey, maybe we should be nice to the committee that decides how much money we get.” Is Bush prohibiting DOJ from taking on this effort?

    Sounds like it won’t have much effect, because agencies are likely to want to do what their appropriating committees say.

    “Yeah, it’d mean a fight but the pres would have the public on his side”

    Line item vetoes are unconstitutional. So Congress could easily give it to him and have it not matter.

    whitd (a99f3a)

  45. [The above is also why R’s who act like mildly toned-down D’s are doomed to lose ground. If the commons is being stripped bare anyway, might as well get as much of the action as you can, and that means a D.]

    Good one ras

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  46. starve someone else to salve your conscience and help you stay true to “principles.”

    Give us one example of an earmark that fed starving people, Brad. You really are one obnoxious little troll, aren’t you?

    JD (fc7319)

  47. JD,

    Another sign of a loser argument is when you assume literal meaning in words that are used, rather than figurative meaning. You know perfectly well that I’m talking about making your supporters “wait in line,” at their expense, so you can rant and rave about “staying true to your principle” and “playing fair.”

    Most people see your argument as childhood playground-centered. In the real world, there is absolutely nothing wrong with rewarding your supporters with spoils.

    Brad S (779710)

  48. And to those liberals (I’m talking to you, Andrew J Lazarus) who are getting their kicks seeing me engage in a family spat with my fellow conservatives, a word of advice:

    You had your chance to say “Me, too.” right after 9/11/2001 whenever Bush took the lead on the GWOT. You decided to exacerbate your treason problem. You’re now reaping your own consequences from that.

    Brad S (779710)

  49. You had your chance to say “Me, too.” right after 9/11/2001 whenever Bush took the lead on the GWOT. You decided to exacerbate your treason problem. You’re now reaping your own consequences from that.

    Actually, I was with the GWB post-9/11 policy up until about a day before we invaded Iraq, when I realized he was not interested in making sure Iraq had no WMD (the UN inspectors were on that job), he just wanted a war.

    You know, rural Republicans can be pretty honest about wanting pork-barrel roads. I don’t know if that means they are Democrats-lite, or the Jeffersonian opposition to internal improvements is as bad in this century as it was in his.

    Andrew J. Lazarus (5f1b21)

  50. And I’m sure that all of you railing against ‘pork’ have all called your Congressional representatives urging them to give up the federal money flowing into your districts, right? You know, do without the federal money for fixing road and infrastructure, for mass transit (especially you all in the DC area, have you called to urge that the feds not fund the Metro expansion?), the federal money flowing to universities and research groups in your towns and cities, to do without the directed federal spending for defense projects and courthouses and post offices that provide construction jobs and feed money into your local economies? Or is it just money for other districts that you have a hard time with?

    And even for those of you who did, what a classic case of missing the forest for the trees, ranting about a relative drop in the budget. Not that you all have a chance of succeeding, but if you want to waste your time, why not go after something that really amounts to some serious spending, like entitlements, wasteful defense spending and so on? What, you haven’t called Congress to urge them to take away your social security payments?

    stevesturm (8caabf)

  51. Brad,

    You really don’t understand the purpose of quotation marks, do you? Do you have a learning disability? (I’m quite serious).

    stevesturm et al,

    If it requires pork to fix a road, that’s a design problem in the way that the money is allocated, not an endorsement of pork nor a condemnation of roads.

    See my comments above about incentive traps. See also the little grook about the sun that was included in those same comments.

    strawman ras (fc54bb)

  52. Whoops, back to being real ras again!

    ras (fc54bb)

  53. Another sign of a loser argument is when you assume literal meaning in words that are used, rather than figurative meaning. You know perfectly well that I’m talking about making your supporters “wait in line,” at their expense, so you can rant and rave about “staying true to your principle” and “playing fair.”

    Most people see your argument as childhood playground-centered. In the real world, there is absolutely nothing wrong with rewarding your supporters with spoils.

    Flowery speech like that just sails right on past my head, Brad. Us silly little rubes cannot be expected to understand such high concepts.

    On your last report card, your teacher noted that you do not play well with others, yes?

    JD (fc7319)

  54. Except for the tone, I’d be on Brad’s side on this. The Office of Management and Budget, an executive agency, submits a budget to Congress. In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Constitutional provision which requires all money bills to originate in the House. Elected representatives take away a little bit of the discretion of government bureaucrats on how to spend a raltively small portion of the money the bureaucrats asked for. Ok, if the money goes to some crony or some pet project that takes away money from essential services, it’s bad. Otherwise …?

    nk (398aa2)

  55. nk,

    I don’t see the violation. It is really a budget proposal and the first thing Congress needs to know is what things are expected to cost.

    This is analogous to how a private co does the same thing: the depts submit their proposed budgets and then the vetting begins and the changes follow.

    As for what’s bad w/pork as the delivery vehicle, it is both inefficient (thereby robbing other worthwhile endeavors, be they public or private) and corrupting.

    ras (fc54bb)

  56. Thank you, ras. Super bad if the earmarks are add-ons to the budget. The last thing we need is more government spending. Just plain bad if it diverts money from better uses or for political purposes. But just a specific direction for spending, which a legislator wants but a bureaucrat doesn’t, I see as a Congressional duty.

    nk (398aa2)

  57. The point of the objection to earmarks is that they are inserted after the bill is voted on and represent private favors of Congressmen to donors. We need to spend more on infrastructure but there is an appropriations process where the priorities are out in the open. Building a steam train museum in some Congressman’s district is not the same as repairing old bridges that need work.

    I also think that people who accuse others they disagree with of being childish for not being as cynical or as negative about democracy are either not serious or else they are just trying to stir up rancor. Democracy can be messy but it can also be cleaned up by sunlight on the dark little niches favored by some. Murtha, for example.

    Mike K (86bddb)

  58. Well said, Mike K. Well said, indeed.

    JD (fc7319)

  59. Hear, Hear.

    DRJ (517d26)

  60. It’s not reasonable to fault Bush for not making this retroactive. That would put him on a collision course with Congress. It’s better for the President to check Congress without being overly hostile.

    What’s already been voted on is done. To attempt to undo that would cause more strife than it’s worth.

    Daryl Herbert (4ecd4c)

  61. Daryl,

    The problem is these airdropped earmarks have NOT been voted on.

    I’m happy W is issuing the EO. I’m sad he didn’t do it 7 years ago. Or 5. Or make it retroactive to budget bills in force now.

    But we should not let the perfect become the enemy of the better-than-status-quo.

    Dan S (c77713)


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