WASHINGTON – President Bush on Thursday chastised the Democratic-led Congress for lumping some 9,800 stocking-stuffer pet projects into its a massive spending bill finalized late Wednesday.
Pointing to a number of wins on his policy measures — including $70 billion for Iraq war funding, an alternative minimum tax fix that didn't include a tax increase, and a 40 percent hike in auto fuel-efficiency standards by 2022 — Bush quickly turned the corner to shine the spotlight on legislative earmarks.
"I'm disappointed that Congress resorted to passing all this spending in one massive, more than 1,400-page omnibus bill, rather than considering and passing individual spending bills in the normal process," Bush said, speaking to reporters in the White House briefing room.
"The omnibus bill was approved at the last minute, nearly three months after the end of the fiscal year. 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," Bush said.
Calling the earmarks in the bill "not responsible," Bush pointed to what he believed was a contrast between Democrats' actions and their words from last year's elections.
"The congressional leaders ran in the last election on a promise that they would curb earmarks. And they made some progress and there's more transparency in the process. But they have not made enough progress.
"The bill they just passed includes about 9,800 earmarks. Together with the previously passed defense spending bill, that means Congress has approved about 11,900 earmarks this year."
Bush then said he will be asking his budget director, Jim Nussle, to review ways to deal "with the wasteful spending in the omnibus bill."
Those earmarks originated on both sides of the aisle, including:
— $2.2 million for cricket control in Nevada
— $223,000 for beaver management in North Carolina, and $475,000 for beaver management in Mississippi
— $244,000 for bee research in Texas
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took issue with the president's version of events, though.
"While he complained about Congress this morning, even President Bush has to acknowledge the New Direction Congress’ accomplishments this year," Pelosi said. "Just this week, Congress passed a landmark energy bill, provided tax relief for 23 million American families and a budget that begins to restore our domestic priorities. And the House passed a bill that creates higher safety standards for toys and consumer products."
She also pointed to bringing back pay-as-you-go spending rules to pay for any budget increases with revenue increases. The rule was suspended to pass the alternative minimum tax measure, against some Democrats' wishes.
"Our record of fiscal responsibility, which has been praised by independent analysts, stands in stark contrast to six years of record deficits and debt by President Bush and Republicans in Congress," Pelosi said.
"Next year, I hope the President will stop trying to block progress and work with Congress to deliver for the American people."
In the nearly one-hour press conference, Bush touched on a number of topics from destroyed CIA interrogation tapes to the housing market woes and beyond. The president began with the statement on the legislative priorities, fielding the first question on the now-destroyed CIA interrogation tapes.
The tapes captured the interrogation of two Al Qaeda terrorists and showed CIA agents using harsh interrogation methods that reportedly included waterboarding.
Asked whether he believed it was the right decision by CIA officials to destroy the tapes, Bush sidestepped.
He said the various inquiries by the CIA, Justice Department and Congress "will end up enabling us all to find out what exactly happened ... I'm going to reserve judgment until I find out the full facts," Bush said.
"I will be rendering no opinion from this podium" on the matter, he said.
Congressional Achievements, Failures
Bush's appearance comes only a few hours after Congress wrapped its work for the year and headed home for the holidays.
It was an imperfect end of the year for Democrats, who wrested control of Congress in the 2006 elections. But slim margins and an energized Republican caucus kept Democrats from winning on some of their key goals, which included forcing troops to begin coming home from Iraq and mandating further limits on use of harsh interrogation methods.
Lawmakers finally came to agreement Wednesday on a spending measure to hand Bush a partial victory over Iraq war funding, allotting $70 billion in emergency war funding. Democrats had pushed to strip out all money for combat operations in Iraq, but Bush had asked for nearly $200 billion.
"I think recent days have been a moment that I think the country can be proud of," Bush said, pointing to legislative victories on the budget, taxes and Iraq war funding.
"I am pleased that we have been able to end this year on a high note," he said.
Bush said he was pleased the budget passed without exceeding his $933 billion discretionary spending limit. Critics, however, charge that billions of dollars were pushed into so-called emergency funding: Democrats won an extra $11 billion in the massive spending bill passed yesterday above Bush's demands.
Lawmakers also passed a hard-fought fix to the alternative minimum tax, preventing some 20 million taxpayers from being caught by the gradually broadening measure aimed at taxing the richest Americans,
Bush on Wednesday signed a law hiking auto fuel-efficiency standards for the first time in decades, and also requiring more efficient energy products from light bulbs to kitchen appliances.
Although Bush lashed out at lawmakers on earmarks, Democrats have countered saying that the number of such earmarks has decreased dramatically under their leadership, compared with recent Republican-led congresses.
Bush also still awaits a permanent fix to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Congress passed a temporary measure in August, but set a Feb. 1 expiration date. Bush wants to be able to place wiretaps on suspected terrorists while shielding telecommunications companies from lawsuits over assistance they've provided the administration in the past.
The president also called attention to the coming election-year fracas, saying that even though next year is an election year, Congress has a responsibility to keep working on behalf of the people who elected them.
FOX News' Wendell Goler, Daniela Sicuranza and Jennifer Griffin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.