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« Strategy Memo: Earmark Madness | Blog Home Page | Joint GOP Effort Against Budget »

Obama Defends Earmarks, But Calls For Reforms

President Obama today actually defended the right of members of Congress to insert earmarks into legislation, but announced some reforms he'd like to see to avoid further waste, fraud and abuse with the process.

Obama called the omnibus bill "imperfect," and suggested he would not veto it because Congress should not be "bogged down" when it has more urgent priorities. But he said earmarks account for only 1 percent of the total bill, and criticized those who "railed most loudly" against it while inserting their own earmarks.

"There are times where earmarks may be good on their own, but in the context of a tight budget, might not be our highest priority," he said.

His proposed reforms would do the following:

• Require members to post all earmark request in advance on their Web sites.
• Require earmarks to be "open to scrutiny at public hearings."
• Require earmarks to for-profit private companies be subject to competitive bidding requirements.
• Forbid earmarks to be traded for political favors.

He also said that in the future, if his administration finds an earmark that has no "legitimate public purpose," they'd seek "to eliminate it, and we'll work with Congress to do so."

An easier method might be the line-item veto. When asked about it a few weeks ago, press secretary Robert Gibbs suggested Obama would use it if the authority was given to him, but he did not seem to be pushing for it himself.

"We're happy to have Congress pass such an effort," Gibbs said today.

Obama has not yet signed the omnibus bill, but must do so before day's end to keep the government running.