President Obama to Sign Pork-Laden Omnibus Spending Bill

By Theresa Cook

Mar 2, 2009 8:29am

Obama administration officials Sunday announced that despite expressed "concerns" with the billions in earmarks contained in the $410 billion omnibus spending bill — and campaign pledges to "slash earmarks by more than half" — the President would sign the bill.

Taxpayers for Common Sense says the bill contains 8,570 earmarks at a cost of $7.7 billion. An estimated 60% of the earmarks are from Democrats, while Republicans requested the remaining 40%.

In his list of the Top Ten Porkiest projects that he tweeted on his Twitter page last week, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — who is urging President Obama to veto the bill — cited both the $300,000 earmark for a Montana World Trade Center from GOP Rep. Dennis Rehberg of Montana, and a $1.8 million pig odor and manure management program from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.

"This last year’s business," said Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos.  "We want to just move on.  Let’s get this bill done, get it into law and move forward."

White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel noted on Face the Nation that when "President Obama came to office, two major bills were passed without earmarks.  The major economic recovery act — earmark-free; the children’s health care bill — earmark-free. He has said clearly his policies about earmarks, which is you’ve got to be — more accountability, more transparency, and a reduction."

Host Bob Schieffer asked "why didn’t he just tell the Senate, ‘Look, take these things out of here; I’ve told people we were not going to have these earmarks; then send it back to me’?" which prompted Emanuel to repeat the exact same talking points he’d just given, in more bullet-pointy form.

"What he’s clear is, again, the economic recovery act, earmark-free, a major bill," Emanuel said. "Second, this is last year’s business.  And third most importantly, we’re going to have to make some other changes, going forward, to reduce and bring more — reduce the ultimate number and bring the transparency."

On the campaign trail, then-Sen. Obama sounded far less accepting of earmarks.

In Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Sept 22, 2008, he said, "the truth is, our earmark system — what’s called pork-barrel spending in Washington — is fraught with abuse.  It badly needs reform — which is why I didn’t request a single earmark last year, why I’ve released all my previous requests for the public to see, why I’ve pledged to slash earmarks by more than half when I am President of the United States."

In February 2008, in Bangor, Maine, Mr. Obama said that McCain "complains about earmarks, but it was his party, the Republican party under George Bush and a Republican Congress that presided on the biggest increase in pork barrel spending that America has ever seen and that is what we’re going to change when I’m President of the United States." In July 2008, the President started talking about returning earmarks to their 2001 levels.

After McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, Obama criticized her for having been of two minds on earmarks.

"When you been taking all these earmarks when it is convenient and then suddenly you are the champion anti-earmark person," Obama said, "that is not change, come on. I mean, words mean something."

Members of Obama’s cabinet who were until recently in Congress — including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis — all have their names attached to various earmarks in the omnibus spending bill. Emanuel’s name is attached to an earmark as well.

The President’s assertion that he hadn’t requested any earmarks in his previous two years in the Senate seemed under question last week when his name turned up attached to an earmark along with three dozen other senators who wrote a letter advocating a vocational training program for native Americans in North Dakota and New Mexico. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that there was "no funding level" mentioned in the letter, so the president’s name should not have been cited as an earmark sponsor.

"The President, as a senator, did not request earmarks for the final two years he was in the Senate," Gibbs said.

A spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday said the president’s name would be excised from the congressional report identifying earmarks and their sponsors, Congressional Quarterly reported.

- Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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