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Bush: Congress Should Halve Number Of Earmarks January 3, 2007

Posted by notapundit in Congress, Politics, US News, White House.

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–A day before Democrats take control of Congress, President George W. Bush pressed lawmakers to tackle pork-barrel spending by slashing the use of earmarks, and vowed to craft a budget that eliminates federal deficits by 2012.

“By balancing the budget through pro-growth economic policies and spending restraint, we are better positioned to tackle longer-term fiscal challenges facing our country,” Bush said Wednesday after meeting with his cabinet in the White House.

Democrats countered that the recent reversal in the nation’s fiscal outlook – from growing annual budget deficits to the prospect of a balanced budget – has been fueled less by spending restraint and more by near-record growth in federal revenues. And now that revenue growth is expected to moderate, they say.

Democrats also wondered whether Bush would continue to ignore the cost of the war in Iraq and the cost of fixing the alternative minimum tax in writing his budget.

Incoming House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., said he would make an effort to write a budget that will balance by 2012, but if the cost of the war in Iraq remains substantial that might not be possible.

Spratt said Bush’s selection for budget negotiators, including Office of Management and Budget Director Robert Portman and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, would suggest that there is the prospect for “some sort of a deal.”

But Bush will have to do more than offer more of the same on the budget front if he wants to negotiate with Democrats, Spratt said.

Citing by way of example President Bill Clinton’s 1997 offer to substantially cut Medicare spending, Spratt said Democrats would expect Bush to make “some sort of ante to get the game going.”

Though Bush provided no specifics on how the tide of federal red ink would be reversed, he indicated he intends to stick with the White House’s formula of making its tax cuts permanent “to keep this economy growing” and curbing non-defense, non-Homeland Security spending – policies that could face resistance in the Democrat-led Congress.

Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the libertarian CATO Institute, said any proposal to balance the budget over the next five years is “just rhetoric.”

“It’s a nice thought, but it assumes that a whole bunch of things will happen, most of which he’s not going to have any control over,” Slivinski said.

The administration will send its fiscal 2008 budget request to Congress on Feb. 5. At the same time, it will submit an emergency supplemental budget request for fiscal 2007 funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expected to be around $100 billion.

Booming revenues helped trim the deficit to $248 billion in fiscal 2006, a figure that delivered on the White House’s goal of halving the deficit from an estimated 2004 level of $521 billion that never fully materialized.

The White House’s mid-session budget review, released in July, forecasts a $127 billion deficit in 2011, but doesn’t go as far as 2012. Adjusting for the cost of the war in Iraq and the cost of extending a number of expiring tax breaks, the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates a deficit of $175 billion for 2012.

Bush said that bringing the budget into balance will position the country to address the looming explosion of entitlement spending, but he didn’t detail any ideas for reforming Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Instead, he reiterated his call to make the tax relief passed earlier in his administration permanent, something Democrats have resisted.

“The president’s going to present a budget that will be in balance by the year 2012, and will in fact demonstrate that without raising taxes you set priorities and you spend and you come up with a complex of policies that will be good for the American people,” White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

With Democrats set to officially take control of Congress Thursday, Bush said both parties can work together to tame the use of earmarks – spending items tucked into appropriations bills with little oversight. He called for the number and cost of earmarks to at least be cut in half next year.

“Congress needs to adopt real reform that requires full disclosure of the sponsors, the cost, the recipients and the justifications for every earmark,” Bush said. “Congress needs to stop the practice of concealing earmarks in so-called report language.”

Democrats also have pledged to attack the use of earmarks, and Bush applauded a temporary moratorium in unfinished fiscal 2007 spending bills. That’s “a good start,” he said, “but we need to do more.”

Incoming House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Bush would like Congress to eliminate earmarks altogether, but said that wouldn’t happen.

Hoyer said every president would like lawmakers to be forced to come “hat in hand” to the White House to win federal dollars for their district.

“That would substantially skew the relationship and undermine the independence of the Congress,” Hoyer said. “After all, the Constitution gives to the Congress the authority and responsibility to appropriate funds.”

Bush also renewed his oft-repeated call for line-item veto powers, which the White House believes would pass Constitutional muster by giving the president the authority to return specific spending items to lawmakers for an up-or-down vote.

Bush, who has never vetoed a spending bill, said he looks forward to working with the new Congress. “It’s time to set aside politics,” he said.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., was cautious about the prospect of bipartisanship: “Democrats ran on a message of compromise and we certainly want to work with the president. We hope that when the president says compromise, it means more than ‘do it my way,’ which is what he’s meant in the past.”

By Henry J. Pulizzi and John Godfrey, Dow Jones Newswires


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