Today’s Q’s for O’s WH – 3/4/09

By Lindsey Ellerson

Mar 4, 2009 12:52pm

During today’s briefing White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was joined by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

TAPPER: President Obama cited a few ag subsidies in his budget that he thought could be eliminated.  How many more do you think could be eliminated? Obviously, this is an area where a lot of government reform groups have said there’s a lot of fat that could be trimmed.

VILSACK:  This is a time when it’s very important for us to maintain the safety net, as we look at a number of producers.  I know that I received probably a letter or two a day from ag groups indicating the stress.  Commodity prices have fallen just as stock prices have fallen. And so it’s important and necessary for us to maintain an appropriate safety net. As you all know, budgets are about choices, and you have to make some difficult choices.  We — the President has made a number of difficult choices.  We need to make sure that those are implemented, monitor the implications of those steps and then take the next steps in the process.  I can’t tell you today what that next step will be.  I want to see the impact of the steps that we’ve proposed.

TAPPER:  Secretary Vilsack a few moments ago spoke about saving $18 million in savings by modernizing financial systems, $400,000 by canceling a consulting contract.  And he spoke very movingly about everybody’s tightening their belts in this nation, therefore, the government needs to do so.  You probably know where I’m heading with this. The president is going to sign a bill — the spending bill — which contains $8 billion in earmarks.  Democrats in the Senate are now calling for the president, if not make an effort to have it stripped in the Senate, to veto the bill. Evan Bayh has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today. I don’t fully understand this argument that this is — we’re moving forward.  This bill hasn’t even come to the president’s desk yet. If you guys are really serious, why not take the bull by the horns and get this stuff out of the omnibus spending bill?

GIBBS:  Let me try again.  What we’ve talked about before, this is the culmination of the legislative business from the previous fiscal year and the previous Congress. The president is greatly concerned, and I think that shows in the efforts that he’s taken to illuminate through transparency and accountability wasteful spending and earmarks in legislation.  That’s why he put his on the Internet.  That’s why he hasn’t asked for any in the past few years.  And the president believes that we can work with Congress to reduce wasteful spending in the future.

TAPPER: But why not now?

GIBBS:  Well, we are…

TAPPER:  I guess — you make it sound as if the legislation is written and it’s just waiting for him to sign, and it’s not.  It’s being worked on right now on Capitol Hill.  It’s in the progress of being assembled.  So it’s not that he comes to office and this is outstanding business.

GIBBS:  Well — well, it is outstanding business in the sense that typically appropriations bills are done before half the fiscal year is over.

TAPPER:  Right.  But it’s not too late to, like, tell Harry Reid:  If you send this to me…… with this $18 billion — this $8 billion…

GIBBS:  I think, as I said before, that the president will lay out some very clear objectives on how we move forward.  There will be, over the course of the next several years, dozens and dozens of appropriations bills that cross his desk.  And we’ll change the rules going forward, understanding that we have to deal with last year’s business.


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