Crossing to GOP’s right, Obama calls for earmark reform, three-year spending freeze

By Stephen C. Webster
Saturday, November 13, 2010 11:30 EDT
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It’s a signature Republican issue, even though it doesn’t have much effect on the budget: earmark spending in Congress, which the GOP-led tea parties demanded their representatives end.

Within days of the elections, Republican leaders were already backtracking on promises to ban earmarks, placing the onus on President Obama to veto any bill that contains additional spending.

Enter the president, stage right, who called for a three-year spending ban and significant reform of the earmark system in his weekly radio and Internet address.

The president said the government this week updated a website, www.earmarks.gov, with information about what last year’s earmarks were actually spent on, and which member of Congress fought for them.

Obama acknowledged that the earmarks, like the GOP’s infamous “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, represent only a small part of the budget, but he lauded Democrats efforts to reduce earmarks last year, resulting in a savings of over $3 billion.

That’s still a very small amount, according to advocacy group Taxpayers for Common Sense, which estimated that the roughly 9,500 congressional earmarks in 2010′s budget were worth around $16 billion. The total budget for fiscal year 2010 topped an estimated $3.5 trillion.

For contrast, when Republicans controlled Congress from 1994-2006, earmark spending went from under $8 billion to over $29 billion, according to watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.

Taxpayers for Common Sense also estimated that in 2009, approximately 40 percent of congressional earmarks were from Republicans, and six of the 10 senators who requested the most money for projects in their districts caucused with the GOP.

“But when it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing [earmarks] would have an important impact,” Obama said.

The president added that he supports a three year spending freeze and was prepared to propose other ways to reduce spending.

“But as we work to reform our budget, Congress should also put some skin in the game,” he said.

Republicans, who want to extend President Bush’s massive tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, suggested during the campaigns a bill called “The Tax Hike Prevention Act of 2010,” claiming that Democrats planned to raise taxes. That’s not actually true, as the prior administration had originally planned for their tax cuts to sunset at the end of this year.

A Washington Post analysis found the Republican plan would add $3.9 trillion to America’s deficit over the next 10 years: four times the cost of President Obama’s health care reforms. They also note that the current stable of GOP-proposed spending cuts barely crosses the $300 billion threshold, calling that amount a “drop in the bucket.”

President Obama and outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have adamantly opposed continuing tax breaks for the wealthy, but support current tax rates for Americans who make less than $250,000 a year.

The US deficit shrank nine percent last fiscal year but still topped one trillion dollars, according to government figures. The government also had a budget shortfall of 1.294 trillion dollars, down 122 billion dollars from the previous year’s record-setting high.

This video is from the White House, published Nov. 13, 2010.

With AFP.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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