President Bush will veto fiscal 2009 appropriations bills that do not halve the number and cost of earmarks and will issue an executive order Tuesday directing federal agencies to ignore future earmarks that are added in report language rather than actual legislation.
"If they're going to be in legislative language, that means that they have to be open for all to see, and it means that they would have to be actually voted on," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, who announced the plan Monday.
Bush will not challenge earmarks included in the reports of recently approved fiscal 2008 spending bills.
"The president decided that he needed to give the Congress a very clear indication of what he was going to do," Perino said.
Though it will be left for another president to enforce the executive order, the White House appears to be calculating that future leaders will be reluctant to take a stand that may look supportive of earmarking by abolishing the order. "Remember, an executive order remains in place unless a future president decides to rescind it or change it," Perino said. "So we think this is a good, solid action."
Democrats were quick to criticize Bush's proposal, while some Republicans complained that it did not go far enough. "I'm disappointed the president missed this historic opportunity to stop thousands of wasteful earmarks under pressure from big spenders in Congress," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. House Minority Leader Boehner, R-Ohio, applauded Bush's action but said in a statement, "We believe Congress should go even further, by adopting an immediate moratorium on all earmarks and establishing a panel to determine ways to end wasteful pork-barrel spending." Boehner first outlined those steps over the weekend at the House Republican retreat and in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Pelosi dismissed that request, and noted that Republicans had no problems with earmarks when they controlled Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., lashed out at Bush's proposal, arguing in a morning conference call with reporters that lawmakers are obligated to "take care of the needs of their constituents." Added Pelosi, "if the president wants to do away with earmarks, we should do away with presidential earmarks as well." She added that legislative discretion remains important.
"One person's earmark is another person's absolute necessity. Those are the kinds of distinctions we are happy to make," Pelosi said.