Bush Criticizes Congress for Amount of Earmarks in Omnibus Budget Bill
President Bush on Thursday said Congress finished the year on a "high note" with the approval of a $555 billion omnibus budget package that meets the overall spending levels he requested, but he criticized Congress for "wasteful spending" and said he would seek to address the issue, USA Today reports (Wolf, USA Today, 12/21).
The package that includes the fiscal year 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill and the 10 other FY 2008 appropriations bills, as well as $11.2 billion in emergency funds and $70 billion in additional funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Labor-HHS-Education section of the package includes $600.1 billion in total spending and $145.1 billion in discretionary spending.
The package in large part meets the overall spending levels of $932.8 billion requested by Bush but shifts billions of dollars to health care and other priorities supported by Democrats (California Healthline, 12/20).
Bush criticized Congress for the almost 12,000 earmarks included in the package and the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill, which lawmakers passed separately and Bush signed earlier this year (Wolf, USA Today, 12/21). The earmarks would cost a total of $15.3 billion, according to a preliminary estimate from Taxpayers for Common Sense (Baker, Washington Post, 12/21).
Bush said that, although Congress eliminated "many of the worst" earmarks, lawmakers "have not made enough progress" on the issue (Ward, Washington Times, 12/21). He added, "When Congress wastes so much time and leaves its work to the final days before Christmas, it is not a responsible way to run this government" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 12/21).
Bush said that he has asked Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle to "review options for dealing with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill." Bush did not specify the options that Nussle might recommend.
According to White House aides, one option "would be to ignore the vast majority of earmarks that are included only in conference reports rather than in the appropriations bill itself," as "language in such reports is not legally binding," the Post reports. Bush also could interpret the earmarks differently than intended by the lawmakers who inserted them, White House aides said (Baker, Washington Post, 12/21).
In addition, the White House could "send Congress a list of funding it believes should be eliminated" in a formal rescission proposal, although Bush does not have the authority to require lawmakers to act on the proposal, CQ Today reports (Ota/Clarke, CQ Today, 12/20).
OMB spokesperson Sean Kevelighan said that Nussle will "make some recommendations and those recommendations may or may not entail taking some action" (Baker, Washington Post, 12/21).