Wasn’t Barack Obama supposed to be the transparent President? Wasn’t he supposed to be the President who was going to reject earmarks? Not Quite. After only five weeks it is clear that as President, Barack Obama will be the most disingenuous and secretive leader since Richard Nixon had an enemies list.
He pushed through a “stimulus bill” and promised that it was pork free…he lied. He said that he would be a friend of Israel and then committed to giving a billion dollars to the Gaza terrorist group, Hamas. He said he would veto any bill that had earmarks, and now that the house has passed one…he says, well that bill was started before I became President, so it really doesn’t count. Now we find out that one of the things in that bill was an earmark by one Senator Obama (who swore he made no earmarks). But don’t worry folks, Obama’s Senate friends took his name off the bill…they said it was an accident. Sure it was accidental..that they got caught:
Congress to Erase Obama’s Name From Earmark
By Jonathan Allen, CQ Staff
The reason: Whether Obama cosponsored the earmark depends on what the definition of earmark is and when an earmark becomes an earmark, according to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The provision itself is still considered an earmark, and it’s staying in the bill (HR 1105) — but it’s losing the Obama brand.
As of Thursday, Obama’s name appeared along with three dozen other senators as a cosponsor of a $7.7 million line item for vocational training at two schools run by American Indian groups in New Mexico and North Dakota.
The White House objected to the characterization of the provision as an earmark — a sensitive topic, given that Obama said he didn’t request any earmarks in 2008.
Subsequently, Senate Appropriations Committee spokesman Rob Blumenthal said Obama’s name would be removed from future versions of the congressional report identifying earmarks and their sponsors. Other senators listed with him as cosponsors will be judged on a case-by-case basis.
How It Happened
According to Blumenthal, the public record and a private letter from senators to the Appropriations Committee, this is how Obama was identified as an earmark cosponsor:
• In April 2008, Obama was one of numerous senators who wrote a letter requesting more funding for Perkins Career and Technical Education programs that were due for a cut under President George W. Bush ’s budget.
• The tribally controlled schools were funded through a program within the Perkins CTE that Bush had targeted. They were not singled out for funding in the letter, but the Appropriations Committee concluded that the tribal program was among the priorities of the senators who signed the letter.
On the sole basis of that letter, the committee later assigned sponsorship of the earmark to those 37 senators.
“While we understand that the subcommittee has limited resources for many competing priorities, we believe the funding for the Carl D. Perkins Center and Technical Education program should be increased to restore previous cuts and keep pace with inflation, rising enrollments and new program requirements,” the senators, including Obama, wrote.
The program within Perkins that funded the tribally controlled schools made the two schools in North Dakota and New Mexico eligible for money without mentioning them by name.
• When the Appropriations subcommittee that funds education programs drafted its bill, the panel included money for the schools by funding their program.
While money had gone to just the two schools for several years, the justification for considering their funding “programmatic” rather than an earmark was that the individual schools weren’t mentioned by name.
• Later in 2008, a major education law (PL 110-315) moved the tribally controlled schools program out of the jurisdiction of the Perkins Act and did identify the two schools by name.
• With the new law naming the two schools on the books, the Appropriations Committee determined the program qualified as an earmark.
When putting the omnibus together, the committee was required to list the sponsors and cosponsors of every earmark. For this one, they based their sponsorship list on the original April letter.
“The new authorization identifies particular schools, making the program an earmark. However, the new authorization also moves the program out of the Perkins Act and into the Higher Education Act. Since then-Sen. Obama requested funding for the Perkins Act, he did not request the earmark,” Blumenthal said.
It’s all semantics, says Tom Schatz, head of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste.
Writing to the Appropriations Committee and asking for an increase over the president’s budget for even a broad program, such as Perkins, is a request for “pork” in Schatz’s book. “They’re just parsing words,” he said.
The committee, which jealously guards its prerogative over the purse, sees it differently, of course.
And the president, who made great political hay out of his decision not to seek earmarks in the fiscal 2009 appropriations bills, clearly doesn’t think the original request constituted an earmark.
The committee now agrees — sort of.
That provision is still an earmark, but not for Obama.
As for the other senators who signed the letter, Blumenthal said they would be judged on a case-by-case basis.
“The committee will review each member’s original request letter and take the appropriate action,” he said.
Schatz said the entire chain of events shows why Congress should let the public see bills earlier in the process.
“How many ‘accidental’ earmarks are there?” he said.