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Obama Signals Desire to Address Earmarks

President Barack Obama used his weekly radio address to focus on earmarks and the mounting fiscal deficit, as Republicans on Capitol Hill prepare to vote on earmark moratoriums next week.

“I agree with those Republican and Democratic Members of Congress who’ve recently said that in these challenging days, we can’t afford what are called earmarks,” Obama said, adding that some earmarks support worthy local projects. “We can’t afford ‘Bridges to Nowhere’ like the one that was planned a few years back in Alaska. Earmarks like these represent a relatively small part of overall federal spending. But when it comes to signaling our commitment to fiscal responsibility, addressing them would have an important impact.”
Obama said that as a Senator he worked to eliminate anonymous earmarks and on other measures that created greater transparency in the process. He also highlighted that as president he’s called for new limits on earmarks and that Democrats have reduced the cost of earmarks by more than $3 billion.

Obama did not offer specifics for what Democrats might change going forward in the earmark process, and he made no reference to the Republican-led effort on both sides of the Capitol to impose an earmark moratorium within the GOP Conference.
“Today, we have a chance to go further,” he said. “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.”

In advance of the president’s address, presumed Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority-Leader-in-waiting Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a joint statement announcing that House Republicans will vote next week on imposing an immediate ban on earmarks at the start of the 112th Congress. For House Republicans, it would be extending an earmark moratorium that is already in effect. That ban expires in March.

“We welcome President Obama’s remarks on earmark reform, and we call upon him to urge Congressional Democrats to hold a vote next week on a similar measure,” the Republican leaders said in a joint statement. “Furthermore, if the President is committed to real earmark reform, he could demonstrate that immediately by agreeing to veto any spending measure this year or next that includes earmarks.”

If House Republicans pass the moratorium it will only apply to their Conference, however both leaders have hinted in earlier statements that the ban could end up extended to the full House until the practice is reformed.

Republicans, meanwhile, used their weekly message to talk about their transition to power in the House next Congress. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is chairman of the GOP Transition Team, said Republicans are seeking a change in culture in Washington, D.C.

“Too often, accountability counts for nothing, and transparency for even less, and common sense — well it’s an endangered species,” he said. “That’s why our leader, John Boehner, has pledged to run the House of Representatives differently than it’s been run in the past — by both parties.”

He noted the GOP Transition Team includes incoming Members who were elected on the mantra that they would come to the nation’s capital to change Congress. He also plugged the GOP move to begin installing cameras in the Rules Committee hearing room and other measures that would improve transparency in the legislative process.

“We’ve got the people’s business to do, and the people have the right to watch that business being done,” he said.