Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Earmark Debate Splits Hill Republicans

I wish I could say that this is a surprise:

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee are calling on President Bush to back away from threats to kill funding for lawmakers’ pet projects.

The pre-emptive warnings from the top Democrat and Republican on the panel are the clearest signs yet that President Bush could face a bipartisan backlash if he uses his executive authority to wipe out the more than $7 billion in earmarks...

[Senator Jim] DeMint said that “nobody should act surprised” if Bush issues the order, noting it is consistent with the president’s 2007 State of the Union address to slice earmarks in half.

“I’ve yet to read the part of the Constitution that gives Congress the right to secretly waste billions of tax dollars on a bridge to nowhere and hippie museums,” DeMint said. “The president has the authority and the backing of millions of taxpayers to end the earmark favor factory, and I think he’s going to do it...”

Dyer worked as a deputy assistant for legislative affairs to President Ronald Reagan in 1988 when then-OMB Director Jim Miller sent a memo to all federal agency heads saying they did not have to spend money on the earmarks included in committee report language...

“All hell broke loose,” said Miller, now a senior adviser at the law firm of Blackwell Sanders. Within weeks, he backed down.

Bush would be swamped with objections from lawmakers as well. Nevertheless, Miller argues that Bush should pull the trigger and issue such an order.

“The extent of earmarks is much greater today. … It is obvious Congress cannot do it on their own,” said Miller. Citing the public distaste for the projects, the former OMB director said he believes it would be a political “win” to issue such an order.

I don't think there's any question that it would be a political 'win' for the President, for the Republican 'brand,' and for Republican candidates more generally. That said, Members would be angry about losing on some of their political priorities, and would take criticism from the small number of constituents who care about the projects. On the balance, it would be a net win for Republicans and conservatives, but it's conceivable that one or two marginal incumbents might lose their seats.

My bet is against the President doing this, but I hope I'm wrong.

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