Obama Wants Sharp Knife to Cut Pork Spending

President Obama seeks a tool to cut spending
President Obama seeks a tool to cut spending

President Obama wants the ability to trim congressional pork barrel spending as part of new legislation he introduced Monday.

The so-called "Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010" would allow Obama to cut pet projects and wasteful programs that get tacked on to massive spending bills. Under the proposal, Congress would be required to consider the recommendations as a package, without excluding single items. The legislation is similar to the line-item veto, which was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1998.

"Here the president has to send legislation back to the Congress and the Congress has to act on it, albeit in an expedited way," said Peter R. Orszag, White House director of the Office of Management and Budget. "The line-item veto gave the knife to the president that was unconstitutional. Here we are providing a way for the president to give the knife back to Congress to help it cut out unnecessary fat."

Congress Must Act Quickly on the Cuts

As it stands now, the president can simply approve the overall budget bills or veto them. There is no ability for Obama to modify specific items.

The legislation, expected to be introduced next week, allows Obama to take several weeks to review the budget proposals and forward his response on the recommended cuts and his reasoning. Congress has to vote the recommendations within 25 days, and debate will be limited in both houses.

It also allows the President to delay funding for the projects until Congress has had a chance to consider the changes. It applies toward the $1 trillion in spending bills passed each year, but doesn't apply to Medicare or special-interest tax breaks.

"Now more than ever, it's critical that taxpayer dollars are not wasted on programs that are ineffective, duplicative, or out-dated," Obama said in the letter to Congress. "In a time when American families and small business owners are conscious of every dollar and make sure that they manage their budgets wisely, the Federal Government can do no less."

Dems Give a Lukewarm Endorsement

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that the Democrats in Congress share Obama's commitment to cutting waste, but she didn't give it a wholehearted endorsement: "We look forward to reviewing the President's proposal and working together to do what's right for our nation's fiscal health and security, now and in the future."

House Minority Leader John Boehner said Obama should encourage Congress to vote on spending cuts rather than the proposed legislation. "He should also call on Democrats in Congress to pass a real budget that reins in overall federal spending," Boehner said.

A report released last month showed that government pork-barrel spending projects in fiscal 2010 dropped by 10%, and the total tax dollars spent on them dropped by 15%. Still, the 9,000 projects cost taxpayers $16.5 billion.

In making the announcement, Orszag called out several projects that would have gotten the axe as part of legislation. For instance, the Department of Commerce was given $20 million and the USDA was given $5 million to pay for public broadcasting. Orszag said those earmarks made no sense since the Corporation for Public Broadcasting already supported the programs.