President Bush wants the power to strip projects from bills that are snuck into legislation at the last minute. That power is called the line item veto. The House passed a line item bill. Now the matter is pending before the Senate.
The money for these snuck-in projects is obtained in a process called an earmark. Sometimes these projects are called pork. Not all projects are pork. Worthy public policy questions are whether these very local projects deserve federal dollars and of course, how the earmark process unfairly favors some powerful lawmakers over others.
Some earmarks are done in the open. Some are not. Earmarks are controversial. The number of earmarks has jumped in recent years.
There's usually no fingerprints--no name of the sponsor or even specifics about these projects thrown into massive bills just before they are voted on. It's almost impossible for a lawmaker to know what's up.
An example is money the Children's Museum at Navy Pier won in the transportation bill last year. The bill stated that money would go for a `Transportation Museum'' that did not exist. I had to launch a mini-investigation to find the sponsor. The money was earmarked for a contemplated transportation exhibit at the museum.
An earmark is how House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) secured federal funding for the proposed Prairie Parkway, or Hastert Highway. Bush argued today that lawmakers will be less likely to try to slip stuff into bills if it gets noticed.
Some lawmakers want to ban earmarks, but they lost that fight a few months ago in the pending (perhaps stalled) ethics legislation. Hastert and company are open to more transparency on earmarks--name and info about each project. The House hangup now is over whether every committee will have to highlight earmarks, or only a few.
Rob Portman, the new Office of Management and Budget director, has been working the precincts in Congress for the line-item veto.
Bush comments below
HE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release July 11, 2006
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON THE MID-SESSION REVIEW
The East Room
9:45 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thanks for coming. The White House is the
people's house, and I'm here to talk about the people's money. We're
glad you're here. As you know, every year my administration produces a
budget that lays out our priorities and our goals. And every summer the
Office of Management and Budget releases a report called the Mid-Session
Review that tells the American people how much progress we're making
towards meeting our fiscal goals.
Today OMB Director Rob Portman released the latest review. I'm pleased
to report that it's got some good news for the American taxpayer. This
economy is growing, federal taxes are rising [sic], and we're cutting
the federal deficit faster than we expected.
This good news is no accident. It's the result of the hard work of the
American people and sound policies in Washington, D.C. This morning I'm
going to discuss the way forward, I'll explain why our pro-growth
policies are vital to our efforts to reduce the federal deficit, what my
administration is doing to work with Congress to eliminate wasteful
spending, and why we need to confront the unsustainable growth in
I appreciate our new Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, joining us
today. Mr. Secretary, you've been on the job one day and you've got a
pretty strong record. (Laughter and applause.) I'm proud that Rob
Portman is here, and he brought his lad with him. (Laughter and
applause.) I thank the Senate President Pro-Temp, Senator Ted Stevens,
for joining us. Senator, thanks for coming. I'm proud you're here.
Thank you for your leadership. I also want to thank David Dreier,
Conrad Burns -- Senator Conrad Burns, excuse me --
SENATOR BURNS: That's okay. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: -- Congressman Joe Knollenberg, Ander Crenshaw, Marilyn
Musgrave, thank you all for coming. Pence is with us, thanks for
coming. I'm proud you're here, Mike. Thank you all for taking time to
be here to hear this good news. You're responsible, in many ways, for
creating the conditions for the good news we're about to talk about.
When I came to Washington, taxes were too high, and the economy was
headed into a recession. Some said the answer was to centralize power
in Washington, and let the politicians make the decisions about what to
do with the people's money. That was one point of view.
We had a different point of view. I believe that the economy prospers
when we trust the American people to make their own decisions about how
to save, spend and invest. So starting in 2001, my administration
worked with the United States Congress and we delivered the largest tax
relief since Ronald Reagan was in the White House. We cut rates for
everyone who pays income taxes. We reduced the marriage penalty, we
doubled the child tax credit, and we cut the death tax. We cut the tax
paid by most small businesses because we understand that most new jobs
are created by small businesses. And we encouraged economic expansion
by cutting taxes on dividends and capital gains.
Together, these tax cuts left nearly $1.1 trillion in the hands of
American workers and families and small business owners, and they used
this money to help fuel an economic resurgence that's now in its 18th
straight quarter of growth. The tax cuts we passed work. (Applause.)
Last year, our economy grew at 3.5 percent, and in the first quarter of
this year, it grew at an annual rate of 5.6 percent. Over the past
three years, our economy has grown by more than $1.3 trillion, an amount
that is larger than the size of the entire Canadian or South Korean
Since August 2003, the U.S. economy has added more than 5.4 million new
jobs. Our unemployment rate is down to 4.6 percent. People are
working. Behind these numbers, there are American workers who start
each day with hope because they have a job to help them build a better
life. Behind these numbers there are more families with more money in
the bank for college tuition, or a down payment on their homes. Behind
these numbers are small business owners who are hiring more workers,
expanding their businesses and realizing the great promise of our
Our job in Washington is to keep this expansion growing -- going, and to
promote pro-growth policies that let Americans keep more of their
hard-earned paychecks and aid us in reducing our fiscal deficit.
In order to reduce the deficit, you got to set priorities. And in
working with Congress, we've set clear priorities. And the number one
priority of this administration and this Congress is to make sure men
and women who are defending the security of the United States and
helping to spread peace through the spread of liberty get all the help
they need from our government. We will always fund the troops in harm's
In an age when terrorists have attacked our country and want to hurt us
again, we will do everything in our power to protect the American
homeland. Those are the clear priorities of this administration, and
the clear priorities of the United States Congress.
Fighting a war on terror and defending the homeland imposes great costs,
and those costs have helped create budget deficits. Our responsibility
is to win this war on terror, and to keep the economy growing. And
those are the kind of policies we have in place. Some in Washington say
we had to choose between cutting taxes and cutting the deficit. You
might remember those debates. You endured that rhetoric hour after hour
on the floor of the Senate and the House. Today's numbers show that
that was a false choice. The economic growth fueled by tax relief has
helped send our tax revenues soaring. That's what's happened.
When the economy grows, businesses grow, people earn more money, profits
are higher, and they pay additional taxes on the new income. In 2005,
tax revenues grew by $274 billion, or 14.5 percent; it's the largest
increase in 24 years. (Applause.) Based on tax collections to date,
the Treasury projects that tax revenues for this year will grow by $246
billion, or an 11 percent increase. The increase in tax revenues is
much better than we had projected, and it's helping us cut the budget
One of the most important measures of our success in cutting the deficit
is the size of the deficit in relation to the size of our economy.
Think of it like a mortgage. When you take out a home loan, the most
important measure is not how much you borrow, it is how much you borrow
compared to how much you earn. If your income goes up, your mortgage
takes up less of your family's budget. Same is true of our national
economy. When the economy expands, our nation's income goes up and the
burden of the deficit shrinks.
And that's what's happening today. Thanks to economic growth and the
rise in tax revenues, this year the deficit will shrink to 2.3 percent
of GDP. That's about the same as the average over the past 40 years.
Here are some hard numbers: Our regional projection for this year's
budget deficit was $423 billion. That was a projection. That's what we
thought was going to happen. That's what we sent up to the Congress,
here's what we think. Today's report from OMB tells us that this year's
deficit will actually come in at about $296 billion. (Applause.)
That's what happens when you implement pro-growth economic policies. We
faced difficult economic times. We cut the taxes on the American people
because we strongly believe that the American people should lead us out
of recession. Our small businesses flourished, people invested, tax
revenue is up, and we're way ahead of cutting the deficit -- federal
deficit in half by 2009.
As a matter of fact, we're a year ahead of fulfilling a pledge that I
told the Congress and the American people. I said to the American
people, give this plan a chance to work. We worked with Congress to
implement this plan. I said, we can cut the federal deficit in half by
2008 -- or 2009. We're now a full year ahead of schedule. Our policies
are working, and I thank the members of Congress for standing with us.
See, we cannot depend on just a growing economy, though, to keep cutting
the deficit. That's just one part of the equation. We also got to cut
out wasteful spending. See, it's okay to create revenue growth; that's
good. But if we spend all that revenue growth on wasteful programs,
it's not going to help us meet our objectives. And so the second half
of the equation is for this administration to continue working with the
Congress to be wise about how we spend the people's money.
Every year, Congress votes to fund the day-to-day spending of the
federal government. That's called discretionary spending. In other
words, the Congress decides how much to spend on these types of programs
on an annual basis. Every year since I took office, we've reduced the
growth of discretionary spending that's not related to the military or
homeland security. I told you, our priorities are military and
protecting the homeland. But on other programs, we've reduced the
growth of that discretionary spending. The last two budgets have
actually cut this kind of spending.
The philosophy is clear: Every American family has to set priorities
and live within its budget, and so does the federal government. And I
thank the members of Congress for making the tough votes, setting
priorities, and doing the hard work on behalf of the taxpayers of this
We made good progress with the emergency spending bill that Congress
approved in June. You might remember the debate leading up to that
supplemental bill. And there was a good constructive debate. And I
weighed in. I said that we got to make sure that the emergency funding
in the bill supported our troops and provided help to citizens that were
hit by last year's hurricanes and to prepare for the dangers of an
outbreak of pandemic flu.
The onset -- I also set limits that I thought were acceptable. In other
words, we came up with our view of what would be a rational spending
limit for this important piece of legislation. And I made it clear to
the Congress, they sent me a bill that went over the limit, I'd veto it.
We got good relations with Congress. People took that threat seriously
because I meant it. Congress responded by removing nearly $15 billion
in spending that had been added to the bill. By meeting the limit I'd
set, Congress ensured funding for vital programs and provided a good
example of fiscal discipline.
The next test is whether or not we can get a line-item veto out of the
United States Senate. A line-item veto is an important tool for
controlling spending. See, it will allow the President to target
unnecessary spending that sometimes lawmakers put into large bills.
Today when a lawmaker loads up a good bill with wasteful spending, I
don't have any choices. I either sign the bill with the bad spending or
veto the whole bill that's got good spending in it. And I think it
would be wise if we're seriously -- seriously concerned about wasteful
spending to enable the executive branch to interface effectively with
the legislative branch to eliminate that kind of wasteful spending.
And so we've proposed a line-item veto that the House of Representatives
passed. Under this proposal, the President can approve spending that's
necessary; redline spending that's not; and send back the wasteful,
unnecessary spending to the Congress for a prompt up or down vote. In
other words, it's a collaborative effort between the two branches of
government, all aimed at making sure we can earn the trust of the
Listen, the line-item veto works. Forty-three governors of both parties
have this authority, and they use it effectively to help restrain
spending in their state budgets. I've talked to some of these
governors, used to be a governor. I know what I'm talking about when it
comes to line-item veto being an effective tool. The line-item veto
provides a lot of advantages, and one of them is it acts as a deterrent.
See, when legislators think they can slip their individual items in a
spending bill without notice, they do it.
If they think that they're going to try to slip something in that gets
noticed, it means they're less likely to try to do so. We want to make
sure that the system we have here in Washington is transparent and
above-board and fair to the people's -- taxpayer's money.
And one way to do so is to make sure that the President can work with
the Congress through the line-item veto proposal I submitted. I
strongly urge the United States Senate to take this matter up and pass
it into law. (Applause.)
We're dealing with the short-term deficit. But there's another
challenge that we face. In the long-run, the biggest challenge to our
nation's economic health is the unsustainable growth in spending for
entitlement programs; mandatory programs such as Social Security,
Medicare, and Medicaid. Millions of our fellow Americans rely on these
programs for retirement health care needs. They're important programs.
But the spending for these programs is growing faster than inflation,
faster than the economy, and faster than our ability to pay for them.
To solve the problem, we need to cut entitlement spending. We need to
do something about it, is what we need to do. One reason Secretary
Paulson agreed to join this administration is because he wants to get
something done about these entitlement programs, and I want -- and I
want to work with him.
You know it's so much easy [sic] just to shove these problems down the
road. The easy fix is to say, let somebody else deal with it. This
administration is going to continue trying to work with Congress to deal
with these issues. That's why I ran for office in the first place, to
confront big problems and to solve them. That's why Henry Paulson made
the tough decision to leave the comfort of private life to come in and
do something good for this country. And the United States Congress
needs to feel that same sense of obligation. The time of playing
politics with Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid is over. We
need to fix this for younger generations of Americans to come.
I'm optimistic about the future of this country, because I'm optimistic
about the -- because I understand the nature of the people we got here.
I mean, we are an entrepreneurial people. We're a hard-working, decent
group of citizens. And the role of government is to foster the
entrepreneurial spirit. It's to encourage people. And one way you do
that is to keep people's taxes low, let them keep more of their own
We've got great faith in the people's ability to spend their money wiser
than the federal government can do. And our faith in the people has
been proven by the numbers we're talking about today.
We said we got an economic issue, and we're going to let you have more
of your own money to help us recover from recession, the stock market
correction and terrorist attacks and war and natural disasters, and the
people haven't let us down, have they? This economy is strong.
We also said, let's just be patient about solving this federal deficit;
we're not going to take money out of your pocket; let's grow our way out
of it; let's keep -- let's set priorities when it comes to spending, and
keep the people's taxes low, and these revenues will catch up into our
Treasury, and they have. And we're reducing that federal deficit,
through the people's hard work and the wise policies in Washington, D.C.
Today is a good day for the American taxpayer. Tax relief is working,
the economy is growing, revenues are up, the deficit is down, and all
across this great land, Americans are realizing their dreams and
building better futures for their families.
I want to thank you all for supporting our policies. Thank you for
giving me a chance to come to visit with you. I thank the members of
Congress for doing good work. God bless you all. (Applause.)
END 10:05 A.M. EDT