Pork reigns supreme at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue

President Bush rarely misses a chance to demand that Congress temper its enthusiasm for earmarks, regularly insisting that pork-addicted lawmakers wean themselves from the practice.

But among the most compulsive earmarkers, Bush stands out as the most prolific practitioner of them all, according to preliminary statistics compiled by Taxpayers for Common Sense.

The nonpartisan watchdog group, which has helped stoke public outrage over earmarks, reports the total value of 1,648 presidential "earmarks" in the fiscal 2008 omnibus appropriations bill at $16.38 billion.

That compares to the $15.33 billion value of the 11,145 congressional earmarks the group has identified in the omnibus and in the enacted fiscal 2008 Defense spending bill.

The presidential figure, though, includes requests made by the president solely or jointly with lawmakers.

Rank hypocrisy? Well, perhaps not precisely.

Bush aides say their earmarks get a full review within federal agencies. With such vetting, they are deemed justifiable spending requests, unlike the sausage ground out by Congress, they say.

"The president lays out all of his proposals clearly and provides cost justification for each in the budget every year, whereas Congress remains addicted to air-dropping last-minute spending projects into spending legislation without any merit or reason [or] theme aside from seniority and district representation," said an OMB spokesman. "That's the key difference."

And up to a point, the anti-government waste crowd agrees.

"That's really where the system is working -- when the agency and the president request funding for a project," said David Williams of Citizens Against Government Waste, another earmark-hating watchdog group that has been more critical of the Democratic-led Congress. CAGW did not even count presidential earmarks this year.

"It's really checks and balances -- an agency is vetting the process," said Williams.

Congressional leaders assert they put the smell test to lawmaker requests, too. "Earmarks here go through a review by Appropriations committee members and staff," said one House Democratic leadership aide.

"It's still an earmark," says Taxpayers for Common Sense's Steve Ellis of the presidential variety. "It's still possible that earmarks are being targeted to benefit particular entities, companies or locations."

Consider, for example, the president's judgment that the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming needs $14,600 to "Renovate Historic Dormitories."

Camp Pendleton in California needs $8,510 for a physical fitness center. And the president sought hundreds of millions of dollars for water projects in the Energy and Water spending portion of the omnibus.

Williams said that even though the requests are reviewed by the agencies, monkey business might occur after the money is appropriated, when White House officials may exert influence on how the cash is actually spent. His group has been unable to track the process. "We have not been able to crack that code yet," he said.

Ellis observed that presidential earmarks help provide cover for lawmakers to push their own pet projects.

They often team up with the president to "plus up" his original request if it is directed toward their state or district.

The Energy and Water Appropriations bill is particularly fertile ground for joint presidential and congressional earmarks that often exceed the president's original earmark request.

For example, the dreaded Asian carp, a fish that has been eating its way up the Mississippi River, decimating native species, and now threatens to swim into Lake Michigan and begin feasting on fish there.

Bush proposed an earmark of $750,000 to help build an electrical barrier that would shock the carp back down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and keep them out of the lake.

By the time the Energy and Water bill was approved by the Senate, Bush was joined by four Democrats -- Majority Whip Dick Durbin and fellow Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and Michigan Sens. Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow -- in a five-way earmark providing $3.25 million for the electric fish fence.

"If the president requests it, someone is saying, 'right on!' " Ellis said.

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