Will Congress Follow Obama’s Earmark Pledge?

ABC News’ Rick Klein Reports: As we’ve reported before, the stark no-earmark policy promulgated by President Obama for his stimulus bill isn’t keeping members of Congress from finding a way to make sure some of the $825 billion they’re about to spend gets directed to favored projects and programs in their districts.

And there’s another Obama earmarking pledge that’s causing consternation on Capitol Hill: The president has made clear that the crackdown on earmarks won’t stop with the stimulus package.

This sentence from the White House Website, though derived directly from an Obama campaign promise, is prompting some quiet pushback from rank-and-file lawmakers of both parties: “Obama and Biden will slash earmarks to no greater than 1994 levels and ensure all spending decisions are open to the public.” 

That’s no small cut. There are a number of different ways to measure “earmarked” special projects approved by Congress, but under one popular tally -- from Citizens Against Government Waste, which puts out the annual congressional “Pig Book” -- Congress approved 11,737 earmarks for Fiscal 2008, up from 1,439 in 1994. 

Congressional leaders have vowed to dramatically cut earmarking this year and in future years. But their plans wouldn’t cut nearly as deeply as Obama’s pledge.

While the $825 billion stimulus measure is getting all the attention now, members of Congress are simultaneously cobbling together an “omnibus” spending bill to fund most government programs through Fiscal 2009.

That measure will run well into the hundreds of billions of dollars itself -- and the current plan on Capitol Hill is to include thousands of earmarks.

Roll Call reports Monday that Obama’s pledge of returning to 1994 levels almost certainly won’t be met, meaning the president would have to veto the spending measure to keep his campaign promise -- a confrontation he surely doesn’t want. 

“Democratic appropriators say there will be a modest additional cut in earmarks in the omnibus and have worked closely with the Obama administration on it, but the cut won’t come close to the 1994 level,” Roll Call’s Steven T. Dennis reports.

The basic tension hasn’t changed: Earmarks are easy to campaign against at a national level, but great to campaign on at a local level. Most members of Congress continue to love the fact that they can deliver individual projects to their constituents, whether or not they’d embrace labeling the practice “earmarking.”

“I think an arbitrary line like [the one Obama is proposing] is going to be hard to meet,” Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., tells Roll Call. “For Senators or House Members to give up their right to fund worthy projects, to relinquish that to unelected bureaucrats who have no accountability, who have never visited their states, is ludicrous.”

This would have been an even bigger clash if Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had one the presidential election. McCain promised to rid the federal government of earmarks altogether.

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