In a statement today, Obama acknowledges that the budget just passed by Congress is loaded with earmarks — the Administration has argued that O’s campaign promises about earmarks don’t apply to it because it was written before he took office — and introduces new ways to reform them. Anything he suggests will have to be approved by earmark-hungry Congress, so don’t hold your breath. But here are the President’s ideas. The boldest and most promising one is to make earmarks subject to competitive bidding, which, because it strikes at the very heart of the idea of the earmark, will probably be the first to get rejected by Congress.
…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 merit for themselves. And 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 we have seen. Private companies differ from the public entities that Americans rely on every day – schools, police stations, fire departments – and if they are seeking taxpayer dollars, then they should be evaluated with a higher level of scrutiny.
Obama added: “if my administration evaluates an earmark and determines that it has no legitimate public purpose, we will seek to eliminate it, and we will work with Congress to do so.” We’ll see. Congress doesn’t share Obama’s zeal for reform, a fact we see time and again. So consider me pessimistic, but willing to be proven wrong.