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White House downplays earmark concerns

Top budget official Peter Orszag says Obama's campaign pledge to reject earmarks in spending bills is 'last year's business.'

March 02, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday downplayed massive deficit spending and President Obama's pledge not to sign earmark-laden legislation amid Republican criticism that he was recanting on a key campaign promise.

The administration's top budget official, Peter R. Orszag, said Obama would sign a $410-billion spending bill despite a campaign pledge to reject tailored budget requests that let lawmakers send money to their home states.

"This is last year's business," said Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget. "We want to just move on. Let's get this bill done, get it into law and move forward."

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel offered mirrored language: "That's last year's business."

The House last week passed the measure that would keep the government open for business through Sept. 30, when the federal budget year ends. Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group, identified almost 8,600 earmarks totaling $7.7 billion; Democrats say the number is $3.8 billion.

Regardless of the precise number, it was still far more than Obama promised as a candidate. He refused earmarks for the economic stimulus package he championed, as well as for a children's health bill.

"We're going to be working with the Congress," Orszag said. "We want to make sure that earmarks are reduced and they're also transparent."

Obama's top aides assigned responsibility to their predecessors and President Bush. By blaming Bush-era proposals for deficits, Obama wanted to set up his own budget, which he unveiled last week with a bold proposal to cut the deficit by half within his four-year term with the budget that would start Oct. 1.

"First, this is a $1.7-trillion deficit he inherited. Let's be clear about that. We inherited this deficit and we inherited $4 trillion of new debt," Emanuel said. "That is the facts."

Emanuel said U.S. car companies have relied for too long on gas-guzzling autos and failed to invest in alternative energy vehicles. Now is the time for new auto fuels, he said.

But Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House minority whip, blamed Obama.

"Listen, I mean, the president was elected by the people of this country to institute change in Washington and to finally demand a federal government that is accountable to the people," he said.

"The fact that there are 9,000 earmarks in this bill and the fact that the vetting process just doesn't take place the way it should, we ought to stand up and draw the line right now and stop the waste."

Orszag and Cantor appeared on ABC's "This Week." Emanuel spoke on CBS' "Face the Nation."

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