According to The Hill, President Bush will face a key test on federal spending when he returns from his Middle East trip wrapping up in Egypt today. At issue is a movement by conservative budget watchdog groups supporting an Executive Order from the president directing federal agencies not to spend any money on many of the 9,000 earmarks included by members of Congress in the 2008 Omnibus spending bill. The Hill reports that supporters of the measure say the move would “send a sharp warning to Congress to clamp down on the rampant earmarking practice that … has been the source of federal corruption convictions.”

The earmark elimination faces stern opposition from powerful appropriators on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) accused the president of hypocrisy for his late blooming interest in federal spending levels and a spokeswoman for Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) warned that such a move “would cripple an already difficult budget process.” Nobody seems to be doubting the legality of the order however, and that is mostly due to a legal analysis requested from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) by conservative Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). The CRS memo concluded that all earmarks inserted into the bill’s 900 page committee report “are not legally binding on executive agencies” since they were never voted on by Congress. Since the committee report was not formally passed by both houses, those earmarks have not been adequately ‘presented’ to the President as required by Art. 1 sec. 7 of the Constitution.

Until they are banned from the budgeting process, earmarks will continue to be a problem for our nation due to the incentive structures involved. While 67% of Americans oppose the special interest benefits earmarks Congress gives out nationally, they are always pleased when their member of Congress brings home the bacon. This incentivizes all members to get all the pork they can for their district, and incentivizes no one to reign in or prioritize spending. Only the executive branch has the whole nation’s interest in mind in the budgeting process. Therefore, they need all the tools they can use to fight back against Congressional profligacy.

Quick Hits:

  • The 12 National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission recommended a 25 cent increase in the federal gas tax Tuesday. The committee also recommended the process for choosing which projects are funded be changed.
  • British intelligence services are investigating claims on an Islamist web site declaring “the creation of the al Qaeda organization in Britain.” A spokeswoman said, “It may not be a threat from an existing cell… but it does represent a move in the propaganda game and the propaganda game is not something we should ignore. This is after all a struggle over ideology.”
  • Environmentalists are upset over a breakthrough agreement between farmer’s and tribes in the Klamath Basin over water use. The plan ensures power and water to farmers while also reviving the Klamath River’s salmon population, but environmentalists are upset because “there’s not even dam removal in this dam-removal deal.”
  • Analysts worry that increased defense spending by oil rich Venezuelan President Hugo Chaves may spark an arms race in South America.