WASHINGTON – President Bush took executive action on Tuesday to crack down on pork barrel practices in Congress. He promised to veto any spending bill that doesn't cut the number and cost of congressional pet projects in half.
The executive order Bush signed in the Oval Office orders federal agencies to ignore "earmarks" that aren't explicitly enacted into law, erasing a common practice in which lawmakers' projects are outlined in nonbinding documents that accompany legislation.
"That means that these projects never were voted on, never really saw the light of day," Bush said as he signed the order that he announced in his State of the Union address Monday night.
Bush, however, has disappointed some conservatives by backing away from a veiled threat issued last month in which he seemed to suggest he would kill some or all of the thousands of earmarks contained in last year's huge omnibus appropriations bill.
His executive order won't apply to the thousands of earmarks that accompanied a massive spending bill he signed last month.
Bush's moves won't have an impact until Congress starts advancing an upcoming round of appropriations bills this spring and summer. Even then, many Congress-watchers think Democrats won't send him spending bills, instead waiting in case a Democrat is elected in November.
The president's moves come as the practice of earmarking — placing pet projects such as roads, clean water projects, health care centers and grants to local governments in spending bills — is under continued criticism from voters and watchdog groups.
House Republicans say they are willing to stop funding — at least temporarily — pet projects for their home districts if Democrats are willing to go along.
Democrats cite recent reforms adding more transparency to the earmarking process and claim that earmarks are down more than 40 percent from the last budget passed by Republicans. Earmarks represent just a small fraction of the overall budget.
New rules require the sponsors of earmarks to identify themselves and attest that they or their spouse will not benefit financially from them. The reforms came after Democrats imposed a one-year moratorium on non-defense earmarks for the 2007 budget year.