Obama Signs 'Imperfect' Spending Bill Away From Cameras

President acknowledges signing "imperfect" bill and promises to reform earmarks.

ByABC News
March 11, 2009, 5:11 PM

March 10, 2009— -- President Obama acknowledged today that he signed an "imperfect omnibus bill" but told Congress to clean up its act when it comes to pork-barrel projects that are inserted into spending bills without going through the traditional appropriations process, better known as earmarks.

The president signed the $410 billion spending bill, which contains roughly 9,000 earmarks totaling nearly $8 billion, behind closed doors and away from the glare of the cameras. But before he did, he came before myriad cameras to insist he viewed the bill "as a departure point for more far-reaching change."

"I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it is necessary for the ongoing functions of government. But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change," President Obama said in a speech on earmark reform.

President Obama added: "Now, let me be clear: Done right, earmarks give legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their district, and that's why I have opposed their outright elimination. I also find it ironic that some of those who railed the loudest against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own -- and will tout them in their own states and districts.

"But the fact is that on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, fraud and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest," the president added.

Obama said lawmakers should post earmark requests on their Web sites and open them to public scrutiny at hearings; and subject earmarks for for-profit private companies to a competitive bidding process, just like other federal contracts. He pledged to work with congressional leaders to remove future earmarks that don't serve any legitimate public purpose.