Reporting from Washington — President Obama and House Republican leaders may actually have found something to agree on: Eliminating congressional "earmarks" from the federal budget.
They represent less than 1% of federal spending, but they have come to symbolize Washington's wasteful ways. When huge spending bills are working their way through Congress, legislators often tuck in a provision, known as an earmark, that requires a government agency to fund a particular local project, even when the agency officials think the money could be better spent elsewhere.
In his radio address Saturday, Obama said that curtailing or eliminating earmarks would be a first step toward restoring fiscal responsibility.
"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. "We can't afford 'Bridges to Nowhere,' like the one that was planned a few years back in Alaska."
On Friday, the top two House Republicans said in a statement that they planned to hold a vote in the Republican conference to call for "an immediate ban on earmarks" in the new Congress.
"Earmarks have become a symbol of a dysfunctional Congress and serve as a fuel line for the culture of spending that has dominated Washington for too long," said Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the presumptive incoming House speaker, and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), likely the next majority leader.
"We welcome President Obama's remarks on earmark reform, and we call upon him to urge congressional Democrats to vote on a similar measure next week," they said.
But it is not clear how many Republicans on Capitol Hill will agree on eliminating earmarks.
In the Senate, Republican Jim DeMint of South Carolina has also called for a ban on earmarks, but party leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has questioned the idea now that the GOP is poised to take control of the House.
Ending earmarks would give the Obama administration a "blank check" on deciding where to spend federal money, McConnell said recently.
In the past, lawmakers have defended earmarks by arguing that elected officials, rather than bureaucrats, should decide where public money is spent.
"You could eliminate every congressional earmark and you would save no money," McConnell said in a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation. "It's really an argument about discretion."