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Bush targets earmarks

President Bush Monday unveiled new policies aimed at cracking down on congressional earmarks during the last year of his presidency.

The move attracted criticism from both sides of aisle as Democratic leaders pointed out that earmarks exploded under Bush’s watch as he worked with a Republican-led Congress. Some Republicans, meanwhile, contend that the White House has not led by example because it requests hundreds of earmarks each year.

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Still, many earmark proponents were pleased that Bush opted not to cut earmarks from the omnibus bill that Congress passed last month — a move that had been under consideration.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters that Bush would take “unprecedented steps” to reduce the number of earmarks and reform the system that allows members of Congress to sneak the spending items into appropriations bills.

If spending items are deemed worthy, “Congress should debate them in the open and hold a public vote,” Perino said.

On Tuesday, Bush will announce an executive order “directing agencies to ignore any future earmarks included in report language, but not in the legislation, which is traditionally how they end up on the books,” Perino added.

The president was expected to threaten in his address Monday to veto any appropriations bill this year that does not cut the number of earmarks in half.

Following the White House announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chided Republicans for inconsistency in their approach to earmarks. She noted that House Republicans had considered a yearlong moratorium on their earmarks, but rejected that idea at their annual retreat, settling on requesting a bipartisan study of ways to reduce “pork-barrel spending.”

“I think Republicans have pulled their punch on earmarks,” Pelosi said in a pre-State of the Union conference call with reporters. “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.”{mospagebreak}

Republicans say that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders secure significant amounts of earmarks for their districts.

Bush was expected to bluntly criticize Congress on its use of earmarks. An advance excerpt of Bush’s State of the Union address stated, “The people’s trust in their government is undermined by congressional earmarks…”

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House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) lauded the administration Monday but argued that Congress should go further.

“The earmark process has become a symbol of a broken Washington,” Boehner said. “House Republicans applaud the president’s pledge to veto bills that do not significantly slash earmarks and provide appropriate transparency in spending.”

The GOP leader said Congress should adopt “an immediate moratorium on all earmarks and establish a panel to determine ways to end wasteful pork-barrel spending.

“It’s our sincere hope that Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic Majority will join us by the end of this week in supporting these urgently needed reforms so Congress can begin restoring trust between the American people and their elected leaders,” Boehner added.

In their letter to Pelosi on Saturday calling on her to embrace the proposed moratorium, House Republican leaders also took a shot at the White House: “Members of Congress should hold present and future administrations accountable for the way in which taxpayer funded earmarks are used.”{mospagebreak}

Administration officials have argued that their earmarks are more fully vetted because they are sent with the president’s proposed budget.

Yet Republican appropriators such as Reps. Robert Aderholt (Ala.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio) and Sen. Larry Craig (Idaho) last year called Bush’s rhetoric inconsistent with his actions.

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Republican Study Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) is expected to issue his own challenge to senior members of the conference to lead by example and swear off earmarking. Citing the growing number of GOP lawmakers who have pledged personal earmark moratoriums, Hensarling will challenge leadership— including appropriators, ranking members and particularly members of the Republican leadership team — to follow the example set by Boehner and swear off earmarking until integrity is restored to the process.

“Conservatives believe that the earmarking process must be reformed, and Congressman Hensarling believes that it is especially effective to lead by example in that regard, much like Leader Boehner has done,” Hensarling spokesman Brad Dayspring said.

Meantime, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said, “For six years, President Bush did nothing to curb earmarks and instead presided over an earmark explosion. In just one year, Democrats passed landmark reforms to make the earmark process more transparent and cut earmarks in half…”

A fact sheet provided by the White House said its actions “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 fact sheet stated.

“The president decided that he needed to give the Congress a very clear indication of what he was going to do,” Perino stated.

Mike Soraghan contributed to this report.