Bush called out for his earmarks

Democratic and Republican appropriators are accusing President Bush of urging Congress to pack spending bills with pet projects despite his high-profile crackdown on earmarks this year.

A House Appropriations Committee report accompanying legislation funding the Department of the Interior shows that Bush requested 93 of the 321 earmarks in the bill. A panel report for the financial services and general government spending bill showed that Bush requested 17 special projects worth $947 million, more than any single member of Congress.

Senate appropriators have identified more than 350 earmarks in the military construction spending bill requested by the president.

Lawmakers say these lists of earmarks are inconsistent with Bush’s tough talk on earmarks this year.

During a Rose Garden speech in January, Bush called for the number of earmarks to be cut in half.

“Earmarks often divert precious funds from vital priorities like national defense,” Bush said. “And each year they cost the taxpayers billions of dollars.

“Congress needs to adopt real reform that requires full disclosure of the sponsors, the costs, the recipients, and the justifications for every earmark,” he said. “And Congress needs to cut the number and cost of earmarks next year at least in half.”

When Bush recently nominated former House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) as head of the White House budget office, he reminded Congress that he would veto bills with excessive levels of spending and curb the number of earmarks.

“It would appear the administration likes earmarks from their perspective,” said Rep. Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtLobbying world The Hill's Coronavirus Report: WHO vs. Trump; Bernie's out Bottom line MORE (Ala.), a Republican member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Inconsistent would be a fair way to say it,” Aderholt said when asked if Bush was being hypocritical for simultaneously requesting and criticizing earmarks.

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations interior subcommittee, shares Aderholt’s view.
“Hypocrisy? No, but one might call that duplicity,” said Craig.

Legislators say that while Bush has warned them about earmarks, behind the scenes he seeks them just as eagerly as the members of Congress he criticizes.

“The White House has earmarks in everything,” said Rep. David Hobson (Ohio), ranking Republican on the Appropriations energy and water development subcommittee.

Hobson said that last year, when Republicans controlled the House and he chaired the subcommittee, the administration requested new energy and water projects even though Hobson had a policy against starting new projects because many ongoing projects needed to be funded.

“I stopped them and they were furious at me,” he said.

Hobson said that since Bush has asked for the cost of earmarks to be cut in half it would be fair to cut in half the amount of money set aside for projects requested by the president.

“Why should he get a free ride?” Hobson asked.

Sean Kevelighan, press secretary for the White House budget office, explained that Bush doesn’t oppose earmarks. Instead, the president wants to create greater transparency in the appropriations process and ensure that only meritorious projects receive funding.

“We’re not talking about the issue of whether earmarks are all good or all bad,” Kevelighan said. “We’re talking about a process in which taxpayer dollars are being spent in such a way as to be accountable, responsible, and transparent. By doing so, this should clear the way to reducing wasteful spending.”

Kevelighan said it is unfair to compare earmark requests made by the president with requests made by members of Congress because the projects Bush asks for undergo a rigorous review process that does not apply to congressional requests.
“You’re being provided an apples-and-oranges comparison,” he said.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said yesterday that Bush has requested the overwhelming majority of earmarks — over 800 — in the energy and water appropriations bill. In a floor speech delivered last week, Obey said that in fiscal 2006 Bush asked for 987 specific earmark projects in the budget for the Army Corps of Engineers. As a result, Obey said, 77 percent of the Army Corps’s budget went for projects earmarked by the administration.
Obey added that he would highlight the Bush administration’s requests for special projects in the coming weeks.