President Obama tried to jump head of Republicans Saturday on the nettlesome issue of "earmarks" -- the practice of snagging federal money for special interest projects by bypassing the scrutiny of regular regular budget procedures.
In his weekly address, the president said reining in spending on pet projects "would have an important impact" on efforts to shrink growing federal budget deficits. He wants to eliminate wasteful spending and force more disclosure on who is getting what for whom.
But U.S. House Republicans want to take it another giant step by banning earmarks altogether in the new Congress. "Washington has failed to prioritize the way that taxpayer dollars are spend and shutting down the earmark process is a good first step to begin righting the ship," Reps. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said in a statement. The House is expected to vote in a lame duck session next week on legislation prohibiting the practice of earmarking funds for projects that have not been fully vetted by appropriations committees. In addition, Cantor and Boehner -- who is expected to be the next speaker -- say Obama should veto any bill that arrives at his desk with earmarked money.
Obama, who was at the tail-end of his Asian trip Saturday, didn't go that far. Some of the earmarks, he said "support worthy projects in our local communities." He wants more transparency, "so Americans can better follow how their tax dollars are being spent." "We have a chance to not only shine a light on a bad Washington habit that wastes billions of taxpayer dollars, but take a step towards restoring public trust," he said.
Defenders of the practice say the earmarks make up a relatively small part of trillion-dollar plus deficits. Besides, they say, lawmakers have a right to pursue federal aid for the districts and the projects are often worthwhile and popular with constituents.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oregon), making the weekly statement for the Republicans, said the priorities of the new GOP House majority would be cutting spending, creating jobs and reforming how Congress operates.
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