Obama seeks to force votes on earmark cuts
President Obama sent legislation to Congress yesterday that would allow him to force lawmakers to vote on cutting earmarks and wasteful programs from spending bills.
The legislation would award Obama and his successors the ability to take two months or more to scrutinize spending bills that have already been signed into law for pork barrel projects and other dubious programs. He could then send Congress a package of spending cuts for a mandatory up-or-down vote on whether to accept or reject them.
Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said that although the new presidential power would not be a panacea for the government’s spending excesses, it would “add to the arsenal of tools’’ available to reduce spending.
In a phone conference with reporters, he said the legislation was crafted to avoid constitutional hurdles. Past efforts “gave the knife to the president’’ to make the cuts, he said, while the Obama administration’s bill would give it back to Congress to make the final decision on cuts.
Senate Democrats filibustered the idea to death just three years ago, and so Obama’s move would seem like a long shot. But the plan could pick up traction in the current anti-Washington political environment in which lawmakers are desperate to demonstrate they are tough on spending.
Orszag said lawmakers concerned about the current fiscal situation “are eager to look for tools that will help us to reduce unnecessary spending whenever and wherever possible.’’
The top two Democrats in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and majority leader Steny Hoyer, stopped short of endorsing the president’s initiative. “We look forward to reviewing the president’s proposal and working together to do what’s right for our nation’s fiscal health and security, now and in the future,’’ Pelosi said.
House minority leader John Boehner said that although Republicans are pleased the president was sending the legislation to Congress, “this is no substitute for a real budget that reins in overall federal spending.’’
The chairman of the House Budget Committee, John Spratt, a South Carolina Democrat, said he would formally introduce the bill later this week. He welcomed the Obama proposal “as a step forward on the path to fiscal responsibility,’’ adding that Congress would look at it carefully and “see what changes we may want to make.’’
Under the Constitution, the president has to either sign a bill or veto it, which can be impractical. That allows Congress to pad spending legislation with items a president does not like.
The White House says Obama would use the new power to try to weed out earmarks such as water and sewer grants and road projects not requested by the administration.
“We’re heading to what could be a train wreck,’’ Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said. “I don’t believe that this committee can go forward with an adequate hearing’’ without all records from Kagan’s tenure as a White House counsel and then domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is the Judiciary Committee chairman, last week set hearings to begin on June 28.
Sessions said Republicans would ask for a delay unless senators get access to the tens of thousands of pages of Clinton-era records by then.
Sessions doesn’t have a veto over the hearing schedule, but his threat set the stage for a potential partisan showdown over the documents and the pace of Kagan’s confirmation process.