President Bush will issue an executive order tomorrow that directs federal agencies to ignore any future earmark that is not voted on by lawmakers and included in a law approved by Congress. It’s a long-overdue step by the administration to curtail earmarks, but falls short of what conservatives had hoped Bush would do.

Bush’s maneuver will apply only to future earmarks, subjecting them to votes and greater transparency. However, it does nothing to block the nearly 10,000 earmarks included in the omnibus spending bill passed last month.

The White House set a goal of cutting earmarks in half last year, but Congress ignored Bush’s request and earmarks jumped from 2,658 to 11,043, costing nearly $17 billion. Bush’s executive order contends that earmarks inserted in committee reports are not legally binding, but the White House won’t challenge the earmarks Congress already approved.

During a White House press briefing today, spokeswoman Dana Perino was asked why Bush’s action would apply only to future earmarks:

The President decided that he needed to give the Congress a very clear indication of what he was going to do. Last year he called on Congress to voluntarily cut the number of earmarks in half; they did not do that. The President will not go retrospectively back to the earmarks that were in the omnibus, but he will take this action for 2009 appropriations.

Remember, an executive order remains in place unless a future President decides to rescind it or change it. So we think this is a good, solid action, and it’s a good way to do business, in terms of signaling exactly to Congress what you plan to do and then taking further action if they — since they didn’t voluntarily reduce the number of earmarks.

Although it’s refreshing to finally see Bush take on earmarks, his action is viewed by many as coming too late to really make a difference. With election-year politics expected to keep Congress away from Washington for much of 2008, there’s a chance lawmakers won’t even tackle appropriations bills, preventing Bush from ever seeing his action take effect. The next president could then repeal the executive order upon taking office in January 2009.

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has led the charge against earmarks, criticized Bush’s action for not going far enough.

I’m disappointed the President missed this historic opportunity to stop thousands of wasteful earmarks under pressure from big spenders in Congress.

The President was right last year to call on Congress to stop putting earmarks in secret reports, but the Democrat Congress ignored him and now the President is going to let them get away with it. The proposed executive order will only stop secret earmarks in future bills, but it protects over 10,000 non-binding earmarks requested for this year.

DeMint wasn’t alone in his criticism of Bush. Conservative bloggers and taxpayer watchdogs have also expressed disappointment. Ed Morrissey of Captain’s Quarters said Bush failed to demonstrate courage. The National Taxpayers Union and Club for Growth both said Bush caved to big spenders by postponing action.

UPDATE — 12:54 p.m.: The Politico reports that House Minority Leader John Boehner is calling on Congress to go further than Bush on earmark reductions.