Barack Obama tried to outdo John McCain on porkbusting during the general election campaign in 2008, promising to use his veto pen as often as possible to end earmar abuse by Congress. What kind of grade should Obama get for 2009 on pork? While Obama gives himself a “good, solid B-plus” overall, one long-time critic of Congressional earmarking gives Obama a failing grade. And that doesn’t come from McCain, but from one of Obama’s former Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill:
Fiscal hawks in Congress say President Barack Obama hasn’t followed through on a pledge to lower federal spending on local projects.
Earmarks are expected to total nearly $12 billion in fiscal 2010, according to fiscal watchdog groups. While that number is less than the $15 billion total in 2009, lawmakers from both parties said Obama hasn’t kept up the kind of pressure he showed during his first weeks in office or that he promised as a candidate.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) said Obama made earmark reform “a very big part of [his] campaign” but still signed this month two massive spending measures that both included approximately $4 billion in earmarks.
Feingold, who broke with his party to oppose both the $447 billion 2010 omnibus spending bill and the $636 billion 2010 Pentagon spending bill, said the president could have used his veto pen to reject the measures and force lawmakers to cut earmark funding.
“We’ve got to have a fresh start next year, and I’ve signaled that if they want my vote, they’ve got to stop just signing onto huge numbers of earmarks,” Feingold said.
John McCain’s tough rhetoric on porkers (“I’m gonna make ’em famous”) forced Obama to match McCain in order to build credibility among moderates. But Obama was never very serious about stopping pork, although he did work with Tom Coburn to make it more transparent in an important 2007 effort. Obama needed moderate voters in 2008, but he needs every single vote he can get in Congress in 2009 and 2010. Just like most other Presidents, he uses pork as a means to grease the wheels.
Even if Obama took it seriously, he has shown no inclination to provide any kind of leadership at all to Congress. In fact, for most of the year, the tail has wagged the dog in that regard. Obama has allowed Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to take charge of what is nominally Obama’s agenda, refusing to interject himself into key issues of ObamaCare and Porkulus, the only two significant pieces of legislation to emerge from both houses, and only one of which hit his desk in 2009.
If Feingold suddenly expects Obama to start demonstrating leadership in 2010, he’s as sunny an optimist as ever Washington DC has seen. Obama has made himself into one of the weakest Presidents vis-a-vis Congress in the last century, mainly through his own lack of serious engagement. Pelosi and Reid run the show, and Obama apparently contents himself with sitting around waiting for their instructions while busying himself with a speech here and a TV appearance there. Empty suits do not issue vetoes and stand up to porkers.