ABC's Charles Gibson falsely claimed that President Obama "says he opposes earmarks, but he signed the [omnibus] bill anyway." In fact, Obama said, "Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination."
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On the March 11 broadcast of ABC's World News, anchor Charles Gibson said of President Obama's signing of the 2009 omnibus spending bill: "The president says he opposes earmarks, but he signed the bill anyway." In fact, in his March 11 remarks on earmark reform -- during which he explained why he was signing the spending bill -- Obama said, "[L]et me be clear: Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination." He also said that "the fact is that on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, and fraud, and abuse" and outlined a series of "principles" for earmark reform going forward, including that "if my administration evaluates an earmark and determines that it has no legitimate public purpose, then we will seek to eliminate it, and we'll work with Congress to do so."
From Obama's March 11 remarks on earmark reform:
OBAMA: What you likely have heard about is that this bill does include earmarks. Now, let me be clear: Done right, earmarks have given legislators the opportunity to direct federal money to worthy projects that benefit people in their districts, and that's why I've opposed their outright elimination. And I also find it ironic that some of those who rail most loudly against this bill because of earmarks actually inserted earmarks of their own
and will tout them in their own states and their own districts.
But the fact is that on occasion, earmarks have been used as a vehicle for waste, and fraud, and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the 11th hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest. There are times where earmarks may be good on their own, but in the context of a tight budget might not be our highest priority. So these practices hit their peak in the middle of this decade, when the number of earmarks had ballooned to more than 16,000, and played a part in a series of corruption cases.
OBAMA: I am signing an imperfect omnibus bill because it's necessary for the ongoing functions of government, and we have a lot more work to do. We can't have Congress bogged down at this critical juncture in our economic recovery. But I also view this as a departure point for more far-reaching change.
In my discussions with Congress, we have talked about the need for further reforms to ensure that the budget process inspires trust and confidence instead of cynicism. So I believe as we move forward, we can come together around principles that prevent the abuse of earmarks.
These principles begin with a simple concept: Earmarks must have a legitimate and worthy public purpose. Earmarks that members do seek must be aired on those members' websites in advance, so the public and the press can examine them and judge their merits for themselves. Each earmark must be open to scrutiny at public hearings, where members will have to justify their expense to the taxpayer.
Next, any earmark for a for-profit private company should be subject to the same competitive bidding requirements as other federal contracts. The awarding of earmarks to private companies is the single most corrupting element of this practice, as witnessed by some of the indictments and convictions that we've already seen. Private companies differ from the public entities that Americans rely on every day -- schools, and police stations, and fire departments.
When somebody is allocating money to those public entities, there's some confidence that there's going to be a public purpose. When they are given to private entities, you've got potential problems. You know, when you give it to public companies -- public entities like fire departments, and if they are seeking taxpayer dollars, then I think all of us can feel some comfort that the state or municipality that's benefitting is doing so because it's going to trickle down and help the people in that community. When they're private entities, then I believe they have to be evaluated with a higher level of scrutiny.
Furthermore, it should go without saying that an earmark must never be traded for political favors.
And finally, if my administration evaluates an earmark and determines that it has no legitimate public purpose, then we will seek to eliminate it, and we'll work with Congress to do so.
Now I know there are members in both Houses with good ideas on this matter. And just this morning, the House released a set of recommendations for reform that I think hold great promise. I congratulate them on that.
From the March 11 broadcast of ABC's World News with Charles Gibson:
GIBSON: Two big numbers grabbed a lot of attention today in Washington. The Treasury Department said the federal budget deficit has grown to $765 billion in just the first five months of the budget year, and that in February alone, the deficit was more than 192 billion. And President Obama today signed a $410 billion spending bill to keep the government operating. This is the bill that includes roughly $8 billion in so-called earmarks, special projects added in by members of Congress. The president says he opposes earmarks, but he signed the bill anyway. Here's Jake Tapper.