President Obama’s $8 Billion Earmark Rerun: Lesson Not Learned?

By Jared

Dec 15, 2010 6:23pm

ABC News' Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller report:

The Obama administration today told Congress to pass an omnibus spending bill containing $8 billion in earmark projects, even though just a few days ago the president said one of the lessons he learned from the 2010 midterm elections was to take more seriously the public’s disapproval of – and his pledge to oppose — earmarks.

“We wish there were no earmarks and are troubled with their presence” in the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill, an administration source told ABC News. “But Secretary Gates has told the President that the alternative bill” – a continuing resolution that for one year funds the government, which is due to run out of cash at the end of the week – “doesn't have the funding critical for several national security priorities.”

Gates issued a statement this evening saying that without the omnibus spending bill, the Pentagon would be left  “without the resources and flexibility needed to meet vital military requirements” – specifically “the military pay raise, increases in military health care costs, higher fuel prices, and other ‘fact of life’ bills.” The shorter funding bill would “slow our efforts to meet unanticipated wartime needs,” he added, while the bigger funding bill would provide funding for “critical national security initiatives” including the new Cyber Command and increasing special operations forces.

The president’s acquiescence with a bill that contains $8 billion in earmarks stands in contrast with what he said was a lesson learned from the 2010 midterm “shellacking,” when he indicated that he regretted not taking more of a stand against a different $8 billion in earmarks in a 2009 omnibus spending bill.

At his press conference after the shellacking, the president said that upon taking office, “we were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done.  And I think that frustrated people.”

The president said he’s “a strong believer that the earmarking process in Congress isn’t what the American people really want to see when it comes to making tough decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent.  And I, in the rush to get things done, had to sign a bunch of bills that had earmarks in them, which was contrary to what I had talked about.  And I think folks look at that and they said, ‘Gosh, this feels like the same partisan squabbling, this seems like the same ways of doing business as happened before.’ And so one of the things that I’ve got to take responsibility for is not having moved enough on those fronts.”

The president said the midterms provided him with “an opportunity to move forward on some of those issues,” and he specifically cited incoming House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., as wanting “to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing.  That’s something I think we can work on together.”

Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said Wednesday evening that President Obama and Cantor have not spoken about earmarks since the president mentioned his name at that press conference.

“So right after his election rebuke, President Obama claimed that he to work together to reform earmarks and today he supports a bill that contains billions of dollars of wasteful pork,” Dayspring said. “If that’s the kind of reform the President had in mind, Eric Cantor isn’t interested.  People are furious and rightly so with the runaway spending and the joke process that they are watching Democrats are engage in.  Even after the election shellacking, the President and his party still don’t get it. If he is serious about working together, he needs to take it seriously and pledge to veto this pork laden spending bill.” 

The president told 60 Minutes last month that while he had “campaigned saying we should stop doing earmarks….I had to make a decision, ‘Do I sign this omnibus bill to finish last year's business? And, you know, make sure that I can keep on working with Congress to get all these things done? Or do I veto that bill and have a big fight right away in the middle of an economic crisis?’ Well, I decided to sign the bill. Now, that's an example of where I was so concerned about getting things done that, you know, I lost track of part of the reason I got elected. Which was we were gonna change how business was done here.”

After a number of decisions like that, the president said, “I think what people started feeling was, "Gosh, this is sort of business-as-usual in Washington,’ And that's part of what I ran against. And so, I reflect a lot about over the next two years, making sure that I remind myself, my job is not legislator in chief. It's not just a matter of how many bills I'm passing, no matter how worthy they are. Part of it's also setting a tone in Washington and for the rest of the country that says, "We're responsible’…”

–Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

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